Welcome to my 4th blog post. I was supposed to write this on Sunday, however a trip to Ikea and being glued to Sky Sports News to keep track of what was happening in the Premier League kept me away from my computer.
As mentioned in my last blog post I went to Richmond Park early on Saturday morning with some friends to try out my new 7d and Canon 70-200mm f2.8 MkII. We set off around 6:30am to get to Richmond for opening time at 7am. With the park not opening until 7am it meant that the sun was already quite high and very bright. This was a little bit of a shame in a way as I was very much hoping to get some shots in the morning sun being a little lower in the sky and casting more shadows on the various wildlife in the park.
As soon as we drove through the gates we were able to see quite a few herds of Deer bathing in the morning sun on each side of the small road that winds through the park. I believe that being warm blooded means they like to soak up the sun in the morning to warm themselves up. Although we could see quite a number of herds there appeared to be very few stags. Any stags that could be seen had quite small antlers too which was disappointing. I was very much hoping to find some large, mature stags with over-grown antlers.
The Canon EOS 7d
My very first shot with the 7d was this one and I'm very pleased:
Click to enlarge: Where do we start?
From the offset I was pleased with the 7d - I took a look at this picture on the back of the camera and was even impressed by how colourful and vibrant the display seemed to be. I was very hopeful that what I saw on the camera would look similar on my computer. The image above is hardly edited at all. I cropped a little off the right hand side of the image and reduced the brightness ever so slightly and that's it. First impressions were very promising.
I was using my 7d with the BG-E7 battery grip that day. I was very pleased with the way it made the camera feel, both in terms of weight, grip and just the feel of the camera in general. The battery grip felt extremely solid screwed onto my 7d. I had read reports that some people said it felt flimsy and a little loose - I would suggest that they didn't have the battery grip screwed on tightly. It felt like part of the camera. Seeing as my 2 spare batteries are still on order I opted to start with 6 AA Duracell batteries in the grip instead of the Canon battery just to see how they lasted. I will admit I was only able fire off just over 100 shots before I could see the low battery indicator flashing away in the viewfinder. I was a little shocked. However, I always carry around 20 or so AA batteries for my flash and flash battery pack. It's nice to know that if I was at a wedding I could fall back onto the AA's if I really had to for some reason. Rather than inserting another 6 AA's I put the single Canon battery that came with the 7d into the battery grip on it's own. I ended the day taking 350 shots (so around 250 with the 7d Battery) and the battery indicator was still showing as full. I think I read somewhere that the 7d states it can fire off around 800 shots before the battery needs changing. I'd say that's about right.
Another difference that I immediately noticed with the 7d is that by default the screen on the 7d is off at all times unless you press the 'Q' button. The 7d, with it's many controls encourages you to use the smaller LCD screen and dedicated buttons to adjust the controls. Whilst for the first few shots I found this to be odd, I certainly ended the day adjusting everything without thinking about what was where on the camera and was able to adjust settings whilst looking through the viewfinder without having to look at what buttons I was pressing.
Another feature that was instantly noticeable to me was the materials and feel of quality in the 7d. My 500d was very light, very plastic and did feel rather frail. By comparison the 7d feels like a proper, decent, sturdy body. I'd been reading through various reviews and specs that all suggested the 7d was weather and dust sealed and that was evident as soon as I picked up the camera
Where are the big ones?
After driving past a number of herds and making a note of where they were grazing we went to park and then began to walk back to those locations. We quite quickly found one of the herds that we had passed on our way in but it was mostly full of females and young males. We started snapping away and getting closer and closer to fill-our-frames. I managed to get this shot of a young male:
Click to enlarge: Young Richmond Stag
Before long this herd began to move on and were quite easily unsettled by our presence. This deer was the last of the herd to move on, a young male perhaps trying to show us that he was not nervous of our presence. We too decided to move on after taking a few warm-up shots. In the distance a few herds could be seen. We decided to head for a large herd that were about 600m away nearer some woodland thinking that we stood more chance of seeing some stags in the cover of the trees.
On arrival at the herd we'd seen from afar we still didn't have any large or impressive stags on camera. Although we'd only been out walking and photographing for 45 minutes or so I was beginning to get impatient.
We stood with this large herd for some time edging ever closer to see if we could get anything worth keeping. I managed to get this one of an almost two-headed looking deer that made me chuckle so I kept it in:
Click to enlarge: Which is Which?
Like the others this herd also decided we were too close for comfort and decided to move along.
Finally some stags
We made our way through some trees to see what we could find. We kept walking until we reached a clearing on the other side. We could clearly see another photographer in the distance with his tripod at full height and a rather large lens perched on top. As we got closer we could see a handful of deer grazing not too far from him. What's more they were stags! All of them!
Two of us decided to head for the path the Deers were taking instead of walking directly towards them. Another photographer had also joined the group and there were 5 of us now stalking this pack or large, mature stags. We were concious that with there being so many of us we would spook them and that they would run, so we decided to head much further away, still on their path, but instead to wait for them to come to us.
Click to enlarge: Spotted in the distance
After around 10 minutes the photographer with the tripod had had his fill and left. Meaning there was my 2 friends and I and another photographer. 2 of us got on the ground and stayed low photographing the stags as they got closer and closer. I had my eye constantly in the viewfinder making all my changes without needing to look at the controls. It was only after a short while that I actually moved away from the camera to notice that the whole pack were now no more than 10 or 12 feet away from us! Incredible. I'd never been so close to a wild stag in the clear day like this.
I was a little nervous, not just because the stag closest to me was obviously the alpha male and had the largest antlers, but because every time I tried to move he stopped grazing and raised his head suddenly, looking at me.
The deer's were so close in fact that the 70-200mm lens was simply too big now and I was unable to get much more than a stags head in a frame:
Click to enlarge: Just eatin' some grass
I moved to get my 50mm lens but again the largest stag began looking a little more agitated:
Click to enlarge: What are you looking at?
The pack had slowly moved past us after a short while but the other photography spooked the herd leader and it started to move away.
After this we took a few mote shots of the stags and made our way back towards where we had parked.
The 70-200mm L f2.8 IS USM
Incredible. This lens was a pleasure to use and I'm so, so happy that I've purchased it. You may have read in previous blogs that I have, until now, exclusively shot in Manual focus at all times but on this occasion I shot in Auto-focus the whole day. The lens was fast and accurate at all times and never seemed to fail me as far as I could see in my shots. The focusing was also absolutely silent, I genuinely couldn't hear anything coming from the lens. The only noises the lens made was when Image Stabilisation kicked in upon half-pressing the shutter and then again when releasing. I had the 7d if Zone focus where I would set either the top, middle, bottom, left or right zones as my area of focus. Each and every time the two would focus on the right point in no time at all.
I later got my Canon 50mm f1.8 out and was shocked...by comparison this tiny little lens was louder and slower to focus that a lens 10 times it's size.
As good as the 7d is, I think the 70-200 f2.8 Mk II was the best investment of all my new kit.
I very much intend on shooting in manual again purely because I think it's a skill I'd like to keep polished, but when times are tough and subjects are fast I will no longer hesitate to move that switch from MF to AF!
Click to enlarge: Spitting out some grass
So, all in all my trip to Richmond was hugely rewarding, very positive and I even got some decent little shots for my library too. I hope you like them! I will be using the 7d a lot more in the next few weeks and will have plenty more to write about in future blogs. I also did a little video on the 7d on this shoot. I may post that in the next blog and talk about the video functionality some more too. At the time of writing I'm still waiting on my Canon Speedlight 580EX Mk II and battery pack. If that arrives before the next blog I'll be sure to let you know how I get on with that too.
Until next time!