Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an experience day at Canon’s UK headquarters in Surrey. Put on by Canon, the day featured talks by Canon Ambassadors David Norton and Danny Green, as well as practical shooting opportunities giving us a chance to play about with techniques but also, more importantly, with kit – the sort of kit I had hitherto only dreamt of touching, let alone owning.
The morning consisted of the talks, one by a Canon rep detailing the various improvements in the latest firmware update for the EOS-1D X – something useful for the 1D X owners there, and envy-inducing for the rest of us – as well as the talks by David and Danny (and impressive talks they were – they are really truly two gifted shooters). But it was after lunch that the real fun was to be had, as we split into groups for the practical stuff.
My group’s first port of call was in the grounds of Canon UK, where a small falconry display had been set up for us to shoot, accompanied by Danny Green himself, and starring this little fella.
I can’t remember this little guy’s name, which is annoying because I heard his handler call it often enough. He can’t in all honestly be said to be the best behaved bird I’ve ever encountered; he did as he was told right enough but often took a bit of asking. and occasionally he’d fly off and hide in a tree. Still, there were plenty of opportunities to photograph him.
Soon the owl’s instructor set up a perch for him, so that he could fly along towards the group for a decent photo op.
Danny told us to prefocus on a spot – preferably the handler’s hand – to get a shot as the owl came in to land. I didn’t listen, preferring instead to rely on the AI Servo on my camera to track it along its flight. For the most part, it… didn’t work. But still, I managed to get a few decent shots out of it.
With his part of the display over, the owl was free to enjoy a celebratory meal. He really looked like he enjoyed it (feel free to suggest captions in the comments).
I quite like the fly that snuck into frame in the former shot.
Then we were introduced to an eagle. And even better, it was my turn to play with some expensive glass, here ably demonstrated by my cousin, who also made it to the day.
That is a EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens – about £7,500 of lens if you’re keeping score. This meant that to photograph the eagle we were looking at, even for the extreme closeup shots I got, I had to stand quite a way back from the subject.
Shooting like this was tricky. I’d never used such a large lens before, and although it was light for its size and focal length, after a little while of holding it, its weight still starts to catch up and your arm will start to complain. I never really stopped to think about my camera settings, which is why I was shooting at f/5.6, what my camera had been set to previously, instead of wide open at f/4 (side note: although some photography blogs will have you believe that shooting at maximum aperture isn’t a great idea, Danny Green apparently usually shoots wide open for maximum light and minimum depth of field).
Despite my increasingly aching arm and presumably awkward posture to hold the lens right, the results from the lens were absolutely stunningly sharp. It’s a fantastic lens for sure.
To give my arm a rest, I swapped back to my own 70-300mm lens. By comparison, here is a shot of the same bird taken from roughly the same spot at 300mm rather than 500mm:
After this I handed the 500mm lens over to a lovely gentleman who was kind enough to lend me his own EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM to have a go with. Truth by told this is a lens I’d been more seriously tempted by for a while as it has a decent focal range and is comparatively cheap at ‘only’ about a grand compared to the 500mm beast (it should be noted I no more have £1,000 than I do £7,500, but still, one is definitely more reachable than the other). The weird thing about it is it doesn’t have a twist-action zoom like virtually every other lens in existence; it is in fact one of the few ‘pump-action’ lenses out there.
Just in time to try out the lens, a falcon was brought out for us to see.
The pump action took a bit of getting used to. It was strange to try to fine-tune your framing with a back-and-forth motion as opposed to the usual twisting one. I was never really comfortable with it in the short time I was able to play with it. Rumours abound of a mark II coming along in the near future and I think I’d be pleased to see the introduction of a more traditional zooming motion.
This lens was almost as pin-sharp as the 500mm, but I suspect the alien focusing system cost me some sharpness in a few shots.
When the display proper was over, we had some time to continue shooting the birds as they relaxed. For this I went back to my own telephoto.
After a great presentation by David Norton on processing images (which might finally catalyse me into moving from Aperture to Lightroom), we moved onto our final session, a spot of macro photography with Wild Arena (the same company who took me on a tour of Woburn back in 2012, the images from which I’ve only recently finished processing).
Disappointingly, the setup they had here was a bit difficult, as they basically had one camera (a 5D Mk III) set up to do the shooting, and let attendees swap memory cards to get their own images to take home. However the instructor was a bit too hands on for my liking so I decided to eschew their tripod and camera and shoot handheld using my own macro lens. This meant, however, my results weren’t entirely stellar.
The top image is clearly the sharper of the two.
The last bit of the day was most definitely the best: free trials. Laid out in a room was a long table full of just about every L series lens, as well as a variety of bodies including the 1D-X, 5D Mk III, and others. All told there must have been over £100,000 of kit on that table, and we could play with all of it. All of it!
I immediately beelined for a lens I’ve been wanting to play with for a while: the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM. You’ll have to excuse me, but a lot of the images in this post from here until a few at the end will now be my test shots with unsuspecting people from the day.
Amongst the piles of delectable kit were a bunch of extenders, which gave me a chance to emphasise the massive f/1.2 aperture.
I also took the opportunity to play about with something a little wider: the EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM. Here, then, is the ultimate buffet:
I also fired off a handful of test shots with a bunch of the other lenses, but they’re not really worth sharing here (you’ll definitely be better off hiring one of them if you’re interested).
We were also able to get any images we had on us printed up large scale (roughly 16×24″) for free. I got a couple of my own favourites printed; once the frames arrive they’ll be up on the wall. My cousin went another route, and got one of Danny’s images printed and signed.
We also had one last chance to see the birds.
The day closed out with some words of thanks, some goodie bags, and a raffle in which I won a signed copy of a book by David Norton, which is great and will go on my small inspiration shelf next to the book by Andy Gotts.
Bearing in mind I hadn’t done much shooting for a few weeks before this event, I don’t think I did too badly, although I did feel rusty. Still, nothing so inspirational as seeing some great photographers talk about their work and playing with some cool photographic toys. Now I just really need to go out and shoot something…
—————————————————————————————————————-London Fashion Weekend
The Hawk Conservancy
Return to London Fashion Weekend