Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Team Sorting and Camera Testing

(Click on the thumbnail for the bigger, better version)

Yesterday included another brief period of further exploration with the 50D. The BVS Buckaroos have team sorting events (riders working with calves) at the Equestrian Center on Tuesday afternoons, and we had never yet gotten our schedule arranged to take advantage of the event. We finally pushed everything aside and did it. I figured the action would be an excellent test for new equipment.

Big Bertha was not invited. For the first time, in my brief history of being a camera owner, I had purchased a battery grip and I am trying to adjust to the new weight. Big Bertha would have put me over my limit. Instead I opted to use the 70-200mmL f/4. After all, I reasoned there would be plenty of light at 5:00 PM. Furthermore, with the type of action I would be seeing, I wasn’t much interested in trying to shoot at f/2.8.

Due to the high fence, I was not able to photograph the activities in the pens and you can not poke your head through the corral rails to get a shot since you would become a distraction to the calves and create an unfair hurdle for the team doing the sorting. (Sorting calves is not quite as challenging as herding cats—remember that terrific commercial a while back?—but it is not a sport for wimps, or riders with poorly trained horses.) I was a little disappointed about that, but enjoyed very much watching the teams work. There are some outstanding riders in our tiny community.

Because I was intent on some testing, I focused on riders warming up and schooling their mounts in the large holding corral. Specifically, I got some pictures of a friend’s daughter. This young woman is a top-notch rider and has won numerous championships in youth rodeo events. (I hope I haven’t used any terminology here in that description that is off the mark. I don’t know much about that competition.) I do know she looks as though she were born riding and it was a joy to watch her school this mare.

Technical notes:

(Basic processing and cropping in ACR (CS3)—along with some pesky straigthening, drat).

One of my motivations for buying the 50D was the additional 5 megapixels. While I had never bought into the megapixel race (most of the time I forget how many megapixels my camera has—it's that insignificant to me), a great deal of recent reading has gradually changed some of my thinking. I read more and more action photographers talking about getting the shot and framing later. That switch originally producing a little dissonance in my poor limited brain, but I am discovering the wisdom of the expert advice. I have worked hard for some time now to frame in the camera rather than waiting to do that job in Photoshop. However, that often meant that with things happening very fast, my new awareness of framing produced decent framing or a clean shot one at the expense of the other. When shooting fast action lately, I am getting a much better ratio of keepers (technically speaking), by incorporating advice from action photographers. It doesn't mean I abandon all concern for framing. But, it takes a firm backseat to focus and holding the camera more steady. With AI Servo, my main priority is keeping that focus point on the animal. Framing after the fact means throwing away megapixels and now I have more to spare. A win, after all.

For me, the jury is out on the battery grip. It will take time to adjust to the completely different shape of my camera. I don’t have tiny hands, but at 5’3” they aren’t exactly big.

I had not used the shutter button to lock focus for a couple of years at least. Now, since the battery grip does not have a dedicated focus button, I shifted that function to the AE button. Although it is a tiny shift to the right on the camera body, yesterday it felt like a mile. My thumb knew exactly where that button was and does a bit of searching now.

I wouldn’t go out on a limb at this early stage, but my first impression is that along with the new sensor the AI Servo function is more reliable. (I am keenly aware that this could be nothing more than a new infatuation blinding me to facts.) Time will tell.

The weight of the 200mm zoom lens along with the battery grip and standing on tiptoe to get over a corral rail for a clear shot wasn’t exactly a joy. Still, I was glad I did it and look forward to another session.

By the way, I know I have a nasty tendency to tilt my frame to one side or another, and the bizarre physical contortions required yesterday amplified that problem. I find myself thinking about a grid. Any thoughts about that, anyone?


  1. Anita,
    Congratulations on the new camera--I've heard nothing but good about the 50d, I think it will serve you well. The closet picture is remarkable at an iso of 2000. I don't know about a grid, although I've heard about a few photographers that do use them. For quite some time, I just fixed my tilts in Photoshop. I purchased LR2 a month or so ago, and fixing tilted frames is even, although I also do my best to get it right in camera, it is sometimes secondary for me as well, depending on what I'm shooting.
    I think the photos are great. I was shooting the horses up the road from me and struggled with their movement and the sharpness of the photo--you've got it mastered!
    Thanks for sharing, Mary Ann (theQpb)

  2. Mary Ann - I agonized for months about spending the money, but so far I am very happy with the purchase. I was suspicious about the claims on ISO performance, but it seems to be a definite improvement over the 40D.

    I have been fixing tilts in ACR, but with an even semi-tight action shot you can lose a foot in that transaction. A horse with only three feet—not so good.

    I am delighted that you like the photos. Horses are so beautiful in motion and I want to get ever better at capturing that. As you obeserve, they move quite rapidly. Oh, well, they are much easier to photograph than birds, right?

  3. Anita, I had to smile when you mentioned tilting your photos. I'm forever slightly tilting my photos and then losing photo space as I straighten them after the fact. I've gotten better by being more aware of it and I do have a background grid in my Nikon Viewfinder which helps. I still have hopes of "out growing" this bad habit.

    Feel the burn...I've a battery grip I use with my Nikon D700 and while it is well designed and seems to fit my hands there is the bulk and weight issues. With a fast (heavy) lens and the battery grip taking photos for a few hours crosses over into the physical workout realm. I only use it occasionally.

    I'm still using the shutter release button for locking focus but have been thinking of training myself to use the AF button with my thumb instead. What advantages or disadvantages have you found with not using the shutter release button for focus?

    Sound like you're liking the 50D and from the sample photos you've posted thus far the results have been great. I look forward to seeing more!

  4. Anita: I'm enjoying your frequent postings! :-) As you can see, I've not been posting much, instead taking time to read what others post. I love it!

    Anyway, regarding the grid: The D300 has a mode that will overlay a grid. I use different setting banks for different kinds of shooting. My two major banks are landscape and sports. For landscapes, I use the grid. I have time to set up, make sure things are straight, etc. For sports, no grid. Things move to fast and I just do my best to keep the camera at what I consider level. Honestly, I get a lot of shots that aren't exactly level ... a lot! However, they are close enough that they can be straightened without loosing much of the shot. The last thing that I'm thinking about when shooting sports is being level. I'm trying hard to follow the action, which doesn't leave time for much else.

  5. Earl - Your comments about the battery grip make me feel not quite so wimpy. I think there will be times that I, too, will have mine off the camera. I have hopes of "outgrowing" this tilting business, but judging by your and Paul's remarks, my expectations just got lowered a bit.

    As for moving the focus lock: I found no disadvantages once I got past the initial awkwardness and my fingers learned the new "paths". I like seperating the lock focus function from releasing the shutter. They just feel like two different things to me and having two different buttons helps my muddled brain seperate the two functions. It allows me to lock focus on my subject, then relax my fingers, meter (tightly on the suject,if I choose),recompose, then release the shutter. I find it extremely useful when it comes to timing a shot—prefocusing on a spot and waiting for the subject to come to me.

    Of course, now I am in the process of learning the switch from the "AF On) button to the "AE" button (that I was using on the 20D). And just when the AF button had become completely familiar to me.

    As Paul so wisely observed earlier, I suspect that 40D shots will be fewer and farther between with mostly 50D shots from now on.

  6. Paul - I noticed that you have been taking the "Anita road", this week. It's nice to know that even the ironman needs to take a breather once in while. Let some of the rest of us keep the consversation going while you catch your breath. You carry more than your weight.

    Well, how discouraging are you?! Here I thought it would just take a little more time and I would be over this tilting thing. Seriously, your remarks are encouraging. I don't feel quite like such a goofball, for some of those crooked shots I got on Tuesday. I identify with the "last thing I am thinking about". I will still consider a grid, but with lower expectations from it.

    I thought about you and shooting basketball, when I was at the event Tuesday—action that is fast and unpredictable. I have done just a wee bit of photographing jumpers and it's not easy, but far easier than cases where there is no predictable course for the subject to follow. I can see that my recent practice sessions are helping already. I need more hours in, but since I love watching horses move, it won't exactly be work.

  7. Anita: I love the challenge of shooting basketball. It is pure chaos. :-) It makes it all the better when you get a good shot. Most of the time you never even remember how you got it. On the other side, I can fire many hundreds, sometimes over 1,200 shots and get perhaps a dozen, if that, good shots. It's not a good thing if you like high percentages. Single digit percentages are impressive, but usually they are single digits with a leading decimal! 0.1%! LOL!

    Yeah. The ironman is starting to rust a bit. I've got some ideas circulating through my brain, but nothing solid just yet. I'm not shooting so much right now because it is so hot and humid outside ... two things that I don't do so well. Sweating is highly overrated! So, now, I'm spending a lot of quality time with Lightroom and CS4.

    You've inspired me to want to print again. Now I'll have to haul down my printer from Charlotte! You're causing me extra work, Ms. Anita!

  8. Paul - I think "It's not a good thing if you like high percentages." sums it up pretty well. Now, this is some serious encouragement. Once in a while, the number of misses gets to me. It's good to be reminded that a higher percentage of missed shots is to be expected in some circumstances. I'm curious. Do you use the equivalent of Canon's AI Servo when shooting basketball?

    I have been sorely tempted by CS4, but haven't had 3 long enough to justify the upgrade. I look forward to your comments.

    I know you will enjoy printing. I remember the last time you were in a printing state of mind and how much pleasure you seemed to derive from viewing those finished prints. Hung on the walls, they are bound to add a nice sense of "home" to your home away from home. That will be a nice bonus.

    Just doing my job—stirring up trouble for you.

  9. I had to go and do a little reading to find out what AI Servo was. :-) When I'm shooting basketball, I have the camera set to do continuous focus using the shutter button. It's too much to ask of myself, to try to deal with fast, chaotic action AND to try to mess with an AF button and a shutter button. So, my camera continuously changes focus while the shutter button is pressed half way and I pan to follow the action, shooting when I see something interesting or think that something interesting is about to happen.

    There are a number of focusing modes as well. Single point, 9 point, 21 point, or 54 point. I use, generally, 9 point and try to keep to focus on the player's face.

    CS4 is still very new to me and I still use the same tools that I used in CS2. My only reason for upgrading was because I got the Mac. I'm really looking forward to making a few prints this weekend.

  10. Paul - Now, I feel a little guilty. I should have done the research before I asked that question. Thanks for taking that extra time. I assumed you used a similar feature, but did not want to settle for guessing.

    It is interesting that for you keeping your finger on the shutter button is simpler. Isn't it great that we can have these kinds of choices?

    I am sure I will begin thinking about upgrading Photoshop, when CS5 comes out. Many of the new features interest me a great deal.


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