5D Mark II experience shooting Gorillas in Rwanda

Started Jan 5, 2009 | Discussions thread
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Rob Bukar Regular Member • Posts: 240
5D Mark II experience shooting Gorillas in Rwanda

The following is my personal 5D Mark II experience. As background, I made a very significant upgrade from the 10D.

The main thing I took home from my trip to shoot the gorillas in Rwanda is that the high ISO ability of the 5D MII is the absolutely most important feature (for this particular trip anyway). The troop of gorillas we trekked to see where in very dense jungle when we came upon them, and the lighting was extremely bad. I wanted to shoot at 1/200 or higher to ensure everything was sharp, but to my surprise, even at ISO 6400 and f2.8 the highest shutter speed I could muster was mostly between 1/80 - 1/160. I shot the whole time at ISO 6400 and most shots were between 2.8-5.6 and 1/80 - 1/320. I am virtually positive that nobody else our group visiting the gorillas was able to get very many good shot because of the lighting but the ability of the 5D MII to shoot at 6400 allowed me to get some great shots. My wife was shooting with the XTi at ISO 1600 and got very few usable shots.

This trip really showed me how critical high ISO shooting truly is and the great advantage it provides. You may not want to use it, but in some cases, such as this, you have no choice.

5D MII Observations:

1) High ISO abilities absolutely awesome.

2) Light metering outstanding.

3) Live View in combination with the awesome LCD and 10X magnification provided a terrific way to view animals far in the distance with my wife. Better then binoculars as we could look together and discuss as we watch the screen. It turned out to be a great feature for the safari.

4) Battery life was amazing. I never once used my second battery on the whole trip, even though I used Live View a lot, shot movies, and shot hundreds of pictures a day.

5) I loved the feel in my hand, though it got a bit heavy after long use with the 70-200 2.8 and 1.4x extender.

6) I shot everything Full Raw + Large JPEG. Most images are so perfect out of the camera, I will not need the RAW as no manipulation is needed except cropping. (Huge changed from my old 10D)

7) The customizable menu was really great. As I used the camera and realized what settings I was going back to time and again to change, I added them to the custom menu area, and at that point making the changes was incredibly rapid.

8) The Custom Shooting mode proved useful as well. I set one up for ISO1600, high shutter speed, moderate F stop, Servo Focus, Mirror Lockup Disabled, etc. and used it when I quickly wanted to change to shooting something moving rapidly such as a bird flying away.

9) Using the Rear LCD to display Shooting Functions was of great use when I went out at 5AM to shoot some long exposures in the dark. At first I used the Top LCD with the light button so I could change my settings, as I did with my 10D, and then remembered the Rear LCD's ability. It was so much better with the rear, as the light keeps going out when using the top display and it is just so much easier to see the rear display and all your settings at once in the dark, make changes, and recheck.

10) The main thing I found a bit disappointing was the autofocus. I didn't expect the tracking to compare to a pro camera (which I have never used anyway), but I was let down by it's ability to focus in low light. I had a number of situations with the gorillas where it could not lock on focus when I targeted their body (solid black hair). I needed to move to the face where there was variation in texture compared to the solid consistent fur to get autofocus. I was quite frustrated a number of times, hitting the shutter and it not firing because there was no focus lock, and I was scrambling to get the thing to lock an fire. The light conditions were poor, and I don't know how to compare to anything but the 10D, but it didn't seem much better, and I expected it to be much better. Didn't have the 10D with me so maybe the 10D would have been totally screwed, but just from my past experience, it seemed like it was a situation where the 10D would have performed about as well. Can't say for sure.

11)I had never shot a movie in my life before this trip. Never owned anything that could shoot video. Wow, did I suck at it. I mean my videos really sucked and it was not the cameras fault. I obviously had no concept of the techniques needed to shoot a good video. I fussed around with zoom too much and panning, and panning too quickly. I suggest a lot of practice if you have no experience. I surely need the practice. The video shooting was fun, and I hope to get better. The microphone is useless if there is any wind as it easily picks it up, and if you plan on focusing or zooming, it picks up every movement of the lens rings, so your sound will be ruined if you don't buy an external mic I suppose.

I leave you with a single shot from my trip to Africa. I took about 2000 photos and it will take me quite some time to go through them. I have regular daylight shots at various ISO's in Kenya, the low light high ISO shots in Rwanda, and some long exposure shots at night. I think the longest was 8 minutes. But as an example I will leave you with this one shot of the Silverback in Rwanda. I'll put together an album in probably a month or two from now, and can possibly display some other photos in other conditions if anyone is interested.

Its a jpeg out of the camera. I didn't use the RAW version since it does not need manipulation in my opinion. Only manipulation is about a 20% crop, and addition of watermark, oh and I had to reduce it's size as it was 8.3GB out of the camera.

70-200 2.8IS @
Spot Meter
One Shot
Picture Style - Standard
High ISO Speed Noise Reduction - Standard
Highlight Tone Priority - Disabled
Auto Light Optimizer - Standard


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