Alaska birds with the R6

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BirdShooter7 Veteran Member • Posts: 6,842
Alaska birds with the R6

Bald Eagle good thief!  700mm, f/5.6, 1/2000s iso 640

I recently returned from a bird photography trip to Alaska that was scheduled for June of 2020 but couldn’t be completed at the time for obvious reasons. Thankfully we were able to do the trip this year with the benefit of the new camera so for me the silver lining was the R6.

Red Phalarope 700mm, f/8, 1/2000s, iso 1250

The weather ended up being a bit more challenging than I had hoped for but with a little persistence we found plenty of interesting avian subjects to work with along with a few neat mammals. Overall, the R6 gave me little to complain about. As I continue to use the camera, I’m more and more impressed with it and ended up finding it to be fantastic for quick grabs of unexpected in-flight photos.

Willow Ptarmigan 500mm, f/4, 1/3200s, iso 640

Dunlin 700mm, f/5.6, 1/2500s iso 640

The only lens I had with me on this trip was my trusty EF 500mm f/4L IS USM II along with the EF 1.4x iii and EF 2x iii. I continue to exclusively use the electronic shutter and for this trip I left my tripod at home so everything you see is hand-held.

Mew Gulls at nest 700mm, f/5.6, 1/1600s, iso 640

Red-necked Phalarope 700mm, f8, 1/2000s, iso 640

I was a little concerned about batteries going into the trip since a couple of months ago I somehow managed to lose my little pouch that I carried all of my spare batteries in. This trip was done without the benefit of any new LP-E6N’s or LP-E6NH batteries. Instead, I relied on two sets of Neewer LP-E6NH batteries that I used with the charger that was included with them. I don’t typically buy aftermarket batteries but after seeing the cost of the original Canon LP-E6NH’s my frugal side got the best of me. I got them on May 26 so they were nice and fresh. I had read some positive reviews about the batteries and they weren’t exactly cheap at $60 for the set with the charger so I thought I would probably be in good shape. However, I did bring some old 7D era LP-E6 batteries that had been laying around in a drawer for the past six years, the newest of which was bought back in July of 2014

Rock Ptarmigan 700mm f/5.6, 1/2500s, iso 800

Not long into the trip, as expected, it became obvious that the batteries weren’t performing as well in the ~32F temperatures we were encountering in Alaska as they did back home in the Texas heat. What I was surprised by was that one of the Neewer batteries totally failed after just a few days of use. The Neewer charger showed the battery to be fully charged and when I put it in the camera it would register a full charge but then after only a few photos it was giving me the red flashing battery signal indicating that the battery needed to be recharged. When I put the battery back on the charger indicated a full charge after 3 or 4 minutes of charge time. The other three Neewers managed to survive the rest of the trip but they never lasted more than about two and a half to three hours of use. The old Canon batteries were also affected by the cold but seemed to consistently out-last the Neewers.

Pacific Loon 700mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, iso 640

Back at home in the humidity and 90F+ temperatures the three surviving Neewer batteries have been performing better. I have been getting about half a day of use per charge which is similar to what I am getting from the old Canon batteries.

Short-eared Owl, 700mm, f/5.6, 1/2000s, iso 640

If I had it to do over again, I would just accept the extra cost of the Canon batteries. The up-side is that the Neewer chargers seem to do a decent enough job charging the Canon batteries which is convenient because they charge two at a time and plug into a USB port making them great for travel.

Arctic Tern, 700mm, f/5.6, 1/2500s, iso 640

Aleutian Tern 700mm, f/5.6, 1/2500s, iso 500

One of the other areas that I was a little curious about on the R6 was the level of weather sealing. The level of weather sealing was one of the features that differentiates between the R5 and R6 and this trip certainly involved exposure to more precipitation than I really wanted to expose the camera to. It seemed like we either got snow of freezing rain every day but we didn’t let that stop us. Thankfully despite getting very wet on many occasions my R6 is still going strong.

Willow Ptarmigans fighting for territory.  We encountered these ptarmigans fighting in the middle of the road while out driving.  The confrontation only lasted a few seconds before a car coming the other way flushed them away from the road.  500mm, f/4, 1/4000s, iso 1250

This trip had lots of opportunities for action shots and the banding effect that as I understand it is the result of the way the sensor readout works (Is this rolling shutter or something else?) was present in more of my photos than I would have liked. I imagine an R5 (or hopefully R3) would have done a much better job reducing this kind of artifact. If you look closely at the wing-times of several of the birds in the photos here you can see the banding that I am talking about. I don’t think it ruins the photos but it definitely is something I would rather not have.

Red-throated Loon 700mm, f/5.6, 1/2500s, iso 640

Long-tailed Duck 700mm, f/5.6, 1/2000s iso 640

One somewhat amusing challenge that I had when taking photos in the falling snow was that the eye-AF had a strong tendency to lock onto the snowflakes and I had to revert to using the spot AF to get my subjects in focus.

American Golden Plover 1000mm, f/8, 1/1600s, iso 640

Musk Ox  700mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, iso 800

There were several occasions when I used the EF 2x III and overall, I think it performed admirably, but I definitely prefer to not have to use it. The main area where I noticed issues with image quality was in the transitions between in and out of focus areas where there was a lot of detail present. With the bare lens these transitions generally look really nice, they suffer a little with the EF 1.4x III and they suffer a good bit with the EF 2x III.

Gyrfalcon 1000mm, f/8, 1/800s, iso 1250

For example, I spent some time trying to photograph a Northern Wheatear that was hopping around on a bunch of small rocks with moss poking out here and there. There was lots small detail filling the scene and the bird just wasn’t interested in having us close. Because the bird was fairly distant, I had the 2x TC on and I ended up not getting any photos that I would care to show to anyone. Since I already have so many photos here, I won’t share an example but please take my word for it, the results weren’t pretty.

Bluethroat 1000mm, f/8, 1/1600s, iso 320

When birds were closer and the background was a little better separated from the subject, like in this example of the Bluethroat, the results were much more pleasing. I can still see some objectionable effects in the bokeh but they aren’t really the sorts of issues I expect people to notice when looking at the photo. In other words, I can happily live with the result.

King Eider 700mm, f/5.6, 1/2500s, iso 1250

While I’m sure the extra pixel density of the R5 would have been nice for many of the opportunities I encountered during this trip, I think the R6 provided enough pixels on the subjects to keep me happy and not make me regret my purchase.

Red-necked Grebe 500mm, f/4, 1/320s, iso 1250

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Some of my bird photos can be viewed here:

Canon EOS 7D Canon EOS R5 Canon EOS R6
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