I hope the wildlife photographers can help me.

I am currently using a Canon 60D with the Canon EF 100-400MM F.4.5-5.6 L is II lens when photographing wildlife.

I am struggling in the lower light conditions to get sharp images.  I don't want to bump up the ISO too much and the lowest aperture (5.6 at 400mm) results in part of my image out of focus that I would still like to be in focus. 

I shoot out of hand most of the time and find the shutter speed at around 8/9 aperture too slow and blurry images.

What else can I do to get a sharp images not at the lowest aperture and not too high ISO?

Would a higher end camera make any difference in this or not? 

Thanks

Marius

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Hi Marius,

Unfortunately the science behind photography means that you have 3 areas you can control to control the light entering your camera: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. I always see it as a compromise situation - it so rarely happens in wildlife that all the conditions are perfect that you get all 3 to be perfect. So you always need to compromise somewhere - either depth of field, motion blur, or noise. Those are your choices. Generally in wildlife motion blur is not something you want and you don't want to compromise there, so you need to play wih aperture and ISO instead.

Now for wildlife photography you generally want a larger aperture (lower f number) to blur any distracting backgrounds behind your main subject. I actually find that 5.6 to 6.3 at that focal length works pretty well for wildlife photography generally. If you really want to go to 8 or 9 for certain compositions (for example, multiple animals or animals that are really close to you), and you are not looking for a more arty shot with motion blur, your shutter speed hand held should be in the 1/800 + range (possibly 1/500 if you have very steady hands and the subject is not moving too much) for 400mm focal length and a moving subject. Then you only have one leg of the triangle that you can still play with: ISO. From quick googling it looks like the 60D can handle ISO's up to about 1,600 relatively well. Don't be scared to push your camera up to there, you can use Lightroom or other software to remove the noise resulting from the higher ISO. It is better to get the shot and deal with noise reduction in post processing, than miss the shot or have motion blur that cannot be fixed. Also read about using Auto ISO on your camera - it's a very helpful tool for wildlife.

A higher end camera definitely makes a difference in how it handles noise at higher ISO ranges. The new full frame cameras create beautiful images without much noise at pretty high ISO's. However, first play around and see how often you really need those high ISO's to see whether the substantial costs to upgrade are worth it. Play around with high ISO's on your current camera, ensuring that the exposure of the photos are correct. You might be surprised at how well it actually handles those scary big numbers.

I hope this helps!

Nadia

Thank you very much for the detailed response, really appreciate it.  I am definitely going to test the ISO range on my camera to see where it starts bothering me.  I might have been trying to keep the ISO too low.

Marius

Only a pleasure Marius :-)

Hi Marius,

I fully agree with Nadia in respect to the following:

  • f5.6 - 6.3 works very well and I found over the years f5.6 to be  sort of a sweet spot with many telephoto lenses giving their best results between f5.6 and f8. The most used fstop for me is f5.6
  • Shutter speed is crucial to sharp wildlife images. In my opinion THE most important factor so keep shutter speed to at least 1.5x to 2x  focal length for best results.
  • Don't be afraid of higher ISO's
  • Newer full frames can handle very high ISO's
  • Try to rather rest your camera and lens on a beanbag, monopod or tripod.

All the best and enjoy your shooting

Thanks Pietman

I will go higher with the ISO, was maybe keeping that too low.

Also like your suggestion that I simply HAVE to go and buy the new 5D. :) Seems I don't have a choice! (or did I maybe hear what I wanted to?)

Thanks for the time and effort to answer my question.

Marius

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