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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New Percentages


Today, “high ISO” means values like 25,600 instead of 800. These dramatic advancements are giving nature photographers a whole new way to think about making images.


Lion Cub With Bone: “I found these cubs late in the afternoon with the sun going down,” says Lepp, “and they were under a tree in the shade. The only possibility was to bring the ISO to 1600.” This is an excellent example of the kind of image that a natural-history photographer would be able to observe, but not photograph until recently. So many animals are much more active in the dark, and until now, we couldn’t get photographs of them in situations like these. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 100-400mm (275mm plus 1.3x), 1⁄60 sec., ƒ/5.6 and ISO 1600

George Lepp recently returned from an expedition to Africa, where he was using the Canon EOS 7D and EOS-1D Mark IV, and one of his traveling companions was using the Nikon D3 and D3S. These cameras are part of the wave of new DSLRs that are changing photography due to their ability to produce good images at ISO ratings we’d tend to think of as extreme. If you were a film shooter, you probably remember thinking of ASA 400 and 800 as “high-speed” emulsions. Using these films would get you highly grainy images with flat colors and a certain inherent loss of sharpness. Fast-forward to 2010: There are cameras that bump the ISO up to 102,400, and many of the current DSLRs can make excellent images with relatively little grain and plenty of color saturation at ISO ratings of 1600, 3200 and 6400. In fact, Lepp remarked that with some of these new cameras, he’s starting to think of 800 as the new ISO 100, 1600 as the new ISO 200 and 3200 as the new ISO 400.

It’s clear that the technology is advancing rapidly and photographers like Lepp are taking advantage of it to produce images that represent fundamental changes in photography. Says Lepp, “It has opened up possibilities we didn’t have before. I get much higher percentages of usable images, and I can do things I never thought of before.”

Little Bee-Eater: Describing how he got this image, Lepp says, “The attempt was to capture the little bee-eater in midair as it landed on a branch with a bug. Having 10 frames per second, ƒ/8 for a little depth of field and 1⁄6000 sec. made it happen. An ISO of 1600 was needed to get the desired numbers.” In the past, Lepp would have tried to time the bird’s flight to get this shot, and he would have had a lot of trial and error. How did Lepp capture the shot this time? “I set the ISO high to give me the depth of field and the action-stopping of a fast shutter speed. I prefocused and fired the series, and I got it! We planned it, and it worked.” Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 500mm (500mm plus 1.3x), 1⁄6000 sec., ƒ/8 and ISO 1600

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