Telephoto Technique

Long-Lens Balance • 4K Screening

Lilac-breasted roller. With birds, you never know when a close-up and personal opportunity will present itself. Lepp was working from a vehicle in Botswana, using a monopod-mounted Canon EOS-1D Mark III and a Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L IS II USM telephoto with an EF 1.4X tele-extender (700mm), when a usually elusive lilac-breasted roller perched closer than the lens would focus! Adding a Canon 25mm extension tube between the lens and the tele-extender brought the bird into focus range, yielding this headshot portrait. Exposure: 1/350 sec., ƒ/11, ISO 400

Long-Lens Balance

Q I’m planning a trip to Namibia and purchased a fixed-focal-length 400mm “L” Canon lens (f/5.6) in anticipation of great opportunities for wildlife photography. I use the lens with a Canon EOS 70D body, and in first trials with wild birds near home, I experienced too much lag time in getting the subjects sighted. In addition, I found that mounting the camera/lens to a monopod via the camera mount to be frighteningly unstable. The lens came with a removable metal collar, but I don’t use it because it gets in the way when I’m handholding the setup.
E. Torch
Atlanta, Georgia

A There are two main reasons why it’s difficult to “find” the subject when working with long lenses. First, the longer the lens, the smaller the angle of view. If you’re looking for a bird in a big sky, and you can only see a tiny bit of sky at a time, and the bird is moving, it’s a real challenge to get the bird in the frame. It works better to sight over the top of the lens to get into the general area, then move to the viewfinder to compose, focus and capture. There’s always a bit of awkwardness with a new lens, especially if the reach is much longer than you’ve experienced before; quickness will come with practice.

The second challenge of long-lens photography is the focus. The longer the focal length, the smaller the depth of field—that is, the range of focus. If you’re using autofocus, the focus may “catch” on objects closer or farther away from the camera than the intended subject, and if your area of focus isn’t close to the subject, you’ll never find it. I usually set my autofocus on an area close to the distance I expect the subject to be at before I try to find it.

Successful long-lens photography is really a matter of being ready in several ways. I also preset the exposure on an area that’s close to the lighting on a possible subject. If you simply meter on aperture priority, you risk picking up a dark or light background rather than the right exposure on the subject. This is especially true with birds, often backlit against a bright sky. I’ll often preset a manual exposure that I know is right for the bird, and then I can ignore the backgrounds. Consider using a higher ISO to maintain the same shutter speed while stopping down to achieve greater depth of field.

Whenever possible, you should work with long lenses from a tripod or, in some situations, such as a boat, a monopod as an alternative. The heavy camera/lens setup should be attached to the support head via the tripod collar provided with your lens, rather than the camera’s tripod thread. Keep the lens collar on at all times, and rotate it to the top when working handheld, or use it like a handle when carrying the lens/camera off the tripod. I want to emphasize that working from a tripod is critical to attain the consistent sharpness of which your lens is capable, and to provide the quality of file needed to crop the image and/or produce larger prints. Handholding a long lens exacerbates problems of sharpness, focus and locking onto the subject, not to mention being ready for the next opportunity as the subject moves into a better position or does something biologically important.

The close focus of long lenses such as yours is typically 11 feet or more, and this can be frustrating when the photographer is in a fixed position and the subject is just inside the close focus of the lens. The solution is to add a 25mm extension tube between the telephoto and the camera body. On my Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L IS II USM lens, the extension tube reduces the close focus from 12.4 feet to 7.5 feet. Then, if you add a tele-extender between the camera body and the extension tube, you’ll maintain the close focus distance while increasing the magnification.

4K Screening

Q I have a new large flat-screen 4K TV that I’d like to use to display my images in the living room. How do I go about sizing my images and then getting them to show on the TV?
R. Agliara
Portland, Oregon

A The new high-def 4K televisions are awesome venues for digital images. This is the large-display technology we quality geeks have been waiting for, and here’s why: 4K displays exceed the quality of most of our high-resolution computer monitors (4K monitors are now available, however). While using TVs to display images isn’t a new idea, options available prior to 4K have been disappointing. I’ve experimented with Apple TV to view content from my computer hard drives via WiFi, but the early Apple TV had only 720 dpi resolution, and the images looked terrible on an HD TV. The latest Apple TV outputs to full HD TV (1920×1080) resolution, but that’s still not 4K. Even the best digital projection achieves, at most, 1920×1200 resolution, and that’s nowhere near the 4K (4096×2160) we’d like to see. What you view in a movie theater is usually 4K.

So there’s the why. Now here’s the how. There are at least two ways to view your images on a 4K high-definition flat-screen TV. The first, and easiest, is to look at the back of the flat-screen TV and find a USB input slot. My Samsung 4K actually has three of these USB inputs, all of which work the same way after you use the remote controller to select the source.

To prepare your images for 4K display, within your image-editing software, set the image parameters to be JPEG, 100 dpi and a top-to-bottom resolution of 2160 pixels. That’s the pixel height of a 4K resolution TV. The width of 4K is 4096 pixels, but our single-frame images are in a 2:3 format, so to retain all of the vertical content, use the maximum height of 2160. At that aspect, the width won’t fill the TV display, but the space to the left and right of the image will be black, which works fine. Save the images on a USB thumb drive, insert it into the TV’s USB slot, use the remote controller to select the USB input as the source, and then select from the display/play options offered by your TV.

It works the same way for video capture. Load the video file onto the USB thumb drive, and after setting the TV input source to the USB slot, the video will play full-frame on the TV. I can hardly wait to be able to download 4K video from the new Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and watch it in all its glory on the large-format flat screen. All we have to do now is capture something worthy of 4K! Note that the new Nikon D5, as well as a number of other DSLRs and camcorders, will shoot 4K video, too. A huge bonus here is that you can take any single frame from your 4K video and it will look fabulous, standing alone, on a 4K TV—as good as any still frame that you’ve captured in the traditional way and downsized to the 4K format. (As exciting as this prospect is, I’m still grappling with the implications this technology holds for professional still photographers. Watch this space.)

Another way to view images, video and presentations such as PowerPoint on your 4K TV is to connect your laptop computer to the TV via an HDMI cable. Not all laptops have an HDMI output, but there are all kinds of adapters to HDMI out there, so this shouldn’t be much of an issue. Prepare the images for display as if you were going direct from the USB thumb drive. An advantage of working from the laptop to the TV screen is that you can easily access Internet content. Save storage space by placing your videos on YouTube or Vimeo, then watch them on the large flat-screen TV. 4K TVs upscale the video HD input and it looks great, even on a 60-inch screen.

While working on this column, I experimented with adapters of many types and was able to view images from my iPad, iPad Pro and iPhone on the 4K TV. (Yes, some folks would call me an Apple fanboy, while Kathy says, “If it works, why change it?”) Be aware that your ability to achieve full 4K resolution display will be limited by the capacities of various devices, software programs and connectors; even the HDMI cable falls a bit short of 4K. I’d recommend using the USB thumb drive as the easiest and highest-quality method to look at your image content on a high-resolution TV screen.

On a precautionary note, remember: Garbage in, bigger garbage out. Displayed at 4K, your images are open to intimate scrutiny. Aim for quality in content, capture and processing.

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One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.