Fritz Pölking

The Canon EOS-1  in Nature Photography

The first ten years in nature photography I spent using a German Edixa-SLR camera. These were the most modern and at the very top of technical progress. They even featured a "back swing mirror" and a "quick cocking lever"; whereas no-one would hardly know what these are nowadays.

Right about 1950/60 you would release the trigger, the mirror went up and the shutter opened then closed, but the mirror stayed up and the viewfinder was pitch black. You then had to turn the button (similar to the rewind button which I am sure many will remember) in order to wind the film to the next picture, in so doing, automatically cocking the shutter for the next picture and the mirror came back down again, enabling you to see once again. The Edixa was the first SLR camera, where the mirror came directly back down and where the film transporter was a quick cocking lever which some of you may remember from the Nikon F3 or the Canon F1. At that time, the Germans built the best and most modern SLR cameras in the world.

However, very quickly it became pretty clear that the point of view from the photo industry was to build not what the photographers would like or need, but what would fit best into their marketing strategy and if the photographers did not want to buy this, production would be stopped and the factories closed. Which is exactly what the photo industry did rather quickly and unanimously.

Then Olympus brought a rather pretty nice and new SLR-System called the OM-1 onto the market, followed by the OM-2. With a mirror lock up, a very bright picture in the view finder and excellent lenses. With these I worked for another ten years until mother nature was of an opinion that I had better get myself a pair of glasses. This I did and was suddenly horrified, because I only saw half a picture in the view finder. Olympus was in the opinion that it was not worthwhile to develop a casing with an improved view finder for those few people who need to wear glasses, and never did change their mind (even with the OM-3 and OM-4), until the whole system disappeared.

Nikon had a different point of view 20 years ago and next to the regular F3, they offered the F3-HP for those who had to wear glasses and with which you were able to see the entire picture in the view finder from a distance of 25cm, ideal if you needed eyeglasses. As a professional, you are even more dependent on tools which are suited best for you as compared to an amateur. If an amateur misses out on a great picture because he did not have the tools needed for this motif it may be aggravating and annoying, but it is not really tragic (?), since it is an idealistic loss rather than a financial one. If a professional misses out on a great picture which he otherwise would have been able to publish 10-20 times a year for the next, maybe 20 years, it would be a bit painful for his bank account, that he actually lives from. So I changed to Nikon. The third camera system of my career.

At that time, Nikon was the most innovative company on the photo market altogether and besides that, the one which had people making product decisions at the top who knew exactly what was needed if you were a photographer.

If you wanted a 300 mm lens : fine, at the time you had a choice between 2.0/300 mm, a 2.8/300 mm, a 4.5/300 mm or a 5.6/6000 mm from Nikon. It was to be a

400-er? No problem: there was a 2.8/400 mm, a 3.5/400 mm, and a 5.6/400 mm. 600 mm? Sure, there was a light weight 5.6/600 mm and a heavy 4.0/600 mm. 800 mm? There, you could choose from a 5.6/800 mm and a 8.0/800 mm. All of them with an inner focus, and that twenty years ago, when competitors still delivered telephoto lenses which needed to be set and that at a snails speed, which is very slow, not to mention during the winter when the settings move sluggish.

But times change and people at the top of photo companies, who make product decisions, are replaced. The priorities change and so do the strategic plans for the future.

Thatīs why, at the turn of the millenium I more and more had the feeling, that another change was advisable. The EOS-1V which came out recently in addition to other Canon announcements of new lens generations with stabilizers, which can be used on a tripod and lenses which would minimize the weight and length of telephoto lenses by 30% really started me thinking.

The thought which I really liked most on the new EOS-1V, was the highly improved and much brighter picture in the viewfinder, the modern mirror lock up which works with all exposure programs. That means with manual, automatic, and automatic aperture where you do not have to push the mirror up manually, but where the mirror lock up functions through a software program and is so much more elegant to operate. Anyway, I am surprised that so few amateur wildlife photographers use the mirror lock up.

Everywhere you meet people who keep emphasizing the importance of high optical quality but apparently they do not know just how much they lose again through the click of the mirror. In my opinion you should primarily work with the mirror lock up when using exposure times of less than 1/125 sec. and, of course, if you have the time.


Unfortunately there is no Supermarket to buy a stepladder in Death Valley, 
by Las Vegas, in order to photograph "The devils cornfield" from above.

Well now, the purchase of a camera is not as clear and simple as that of a car. It is easy buying a car: if the vehicle has to plow a field, you buy a tractor. If you need take a quick drive from Hamburg to Munich twice a week you buy a Porsche. If you want to be a bit more comfortable but still quick, you buy a VW. If want to get to and from work economically, you buy a Diesel-Rabbit. If you want to go and pick up fresh eggs from the farmer twice a week, it is as good an excuse as any to buy a 4-wheel, modern RUV (Recreation Utility Vehicle).

Purchasing a camera for professional photography is essentially more difficult. There is the Canon EOS-1 and the Nikon F5. No matter if you are a fashion-photographer or a sports-photographer, if you take pictures of animals with 10 shots per second or fungi, if you are a press-photographer or one for documentaries, if you to take pictures for scientific purposes or if you are a war-time reporter, for all of them there are (almost) only these two 35 mm cameras.

Of course it would be better if there was an EOS-1 S for sport photography, a N for nature photography, a P for press photography and so on. This way everything any photographic off-center group may need at any time was packed into one shell, giving the camera 500 individual functions some of which can only be found by pressing three buttons simultaneously and working yourself through to the 17th level.

Better would be to just order an empty shell and have Canon in Wittlich program it for your individual needs. So, instead of the one display with 840 functions and three hidden levels, six large, firm, user-friendly buttons or switches which can be programmed for individual use.

I would have one button programmed for the switch from automatic aperture priority to manual exposure setting, since these are the only two exposure programs I use. Then one for the application of the mirror lock up 1 or 2; one for the application of exposure bracketing; one for the switch from single to multi (once for 3, twice for 6 pictures a second) takes; and one for AF correction on/out. This way every one could design their ideal camera. It would be, at least as advertised and said in the commercials: very customer friendly.

In this photograph, an endemic Florida tree snail, rarely found nowadays
in southern Florida, is being photographed.

So if you buy a camera for professional use today, the first thing you have to do is adapt the camera to your profession and work habits.

View Finder Discs 

First of all I changed my seeker disc on my camera. The standard disc on the EOS-1V is pretty good, but the one from the less expensive EOS-3 is brighter and more brilliant. Why? Canon says that you can see the activated AF-fields a lot better with a darker seeker disc. Since it is more important for me to actually perceive the motif, the first thing I did was exchange it. Luckily the discs fit both cameras, which is not exactly a usual thing in our photo industry. The only thing you need to remember, is to change the individual function C.Fn-0 from 1 to 0 on the EOS-1V for the disc EC-N from the EOS-3, otherwise your picture wonīt have the correct exposure. You can find the exact instructions to this in the user manual for the EOS-1V on page 98.

By the way, the information from Canon as to "why" is very unusual: If this is true, then the people purchasing the EOS-3 would rather have a distinctive motif in the view finder rather than the group purchasing the EOS-1, who would not care what they are photographing since their emphasis lies on the AF-fields and not so much on the motif.....



Since I always set the bracketing function (shooting three slides at a time, one at +0.3, one at +/-0, and one at –0.3) while taking close-ups, pictures of landscapes and static animal motifs and I always program this function right away in the beginning, I was very upset every time it turned itself off when I changed the film, the lens or the converter. In the beginning I had to re-program the bracketing 20 times a day, until I found the information of an individual function in the depth of the userīs manual, with which you can avoid the automatic re-setting of the bracketing function during every change on the camera.

It is the function called C.Fn 9-1 or 9-3. During the setting of 9-1 the set bracketing does not re-set and the camera automatically uses the series of correct, under and over exposure.

Better yet, using the function 9-3, the series of under, correct and over exposure is set.

In the end, the result is the same, but then you have the correct order of your 3 slides with the setting of 9-3 right away on your light console later while checking your pictures. The somewhat darker on the left, and the somewhat brighter on the right. This is so that you can discern the sequence better and which exposure suits you best of all; whereas the setting 9-1 has a sequence which is a bit chaotic in comparison.

If up to now you have never taken three slides of your motifs with differentiating exposures I can only recommend you shooting the next 10 films trying it out. You will be surprised just how big a difference in quality is found at only a 0.3 exposure difference. You can hardly measure such fine differences beforehand but they are very obvious later on at your light console. All three slides can be used, but only one is convincing. During 70% of the time, the center one will be the one, but 30% of the time it will the be the left or the right one which is has just a little better exposure and it certainly is worth the extra effort.

A cluster of monarch butterflies in their winter quarters 
at 3.000 m altitudein the Mexican mountain.

Canon EOS-1 V 4.0/70-200 mm with a 1.4X converter,
fill in flash ( you need to get a permit from the ranger station
in order to work with a flash while photographing the
butterflies), tripod, Fuji chrome Sensia- 100.

Fill-in Flash

The next problem was the fill-in flash, or pictures at close range, where I had to place the flash behind the subject in order to achieve the so-called halo effect.

Every time you attach a flash or the infra red flash transmitter ST-E2 and turn it on, the bracketing function turns itself off, because according to the Canon philosophy, this flash will take over the function of the bracketing device. But this is only possible if it is a fully active flash which completely shuts out the influence of daylight. Of course if you use the flash on a very low setting, in order to fill in, or to have a speck of light appear in the eye of a certain animal, you will find that the bracketing function wonīt work. Unfortunately the people at Canon did not think so far. With a flash or transmitter you wonīt have the bracketing function on the camera and thatīs that.

So in order to work with the bracketing function and fill-in flash at the same time while using the EOS-1 V, you have to resort to being tricky: there is a "flash adapter 2: cable", article number 6952, available from HAMA, which you can slide into the shoe of the viewfinder of the camera and on which the flash or the transmitter can be attached. Now you take the approx. 10cm long flasher cable from the HAMA adapter and connect it to the plug on the left side of the camera which is actually used for flasher cable connections while working with studio equipment. Now and in this way, you will keep the bracketing function of your camera active while taking pictures with a flash.


Desert landscape in Death Valley

Canon EOS-1 V, 4.0/70-200 mm, mirror lock up, automatic timer
Cable trigger, closed view finder, tripod, Sensia-100

Mirror lock up

Next thing I did was activate the mirror lock up. It is function 12, and with the 12-0 setting it is turned off while the 12-1 setting has it turned on. Unfortunately it wonīt work together with the stabilizer. When turning the mirror lock up function on, the stabilizer is automatically de-activated. No-one knows why. This certainly seems to be the greatest fault of the EOS-1 V and the EOS-3. Would the two functions work together and simultaneous, you would be able to take incredibly clear photos. It is very obscure just why Canon wonīt allow such a thing.

Funny thing about all this is, the old EOS-1 will allow you to use both, mirror lock up and the stabilizer at the same time. So why is the new one called V (victory)? and not the old one??

This is the way the mirror lock up works: once you release the trigger the mirror turns up then you release the trigger again, you expose the picture and the mirror turns back down. You have about 30 sec. when the mirror turns up in order to shoot your picture, before the mirror turns back down.

This type of mirror lock up works best when you want to take only one picture with this function. It is not advisable for several pictures in a row using the mirror lock up, because if you want to take 20 pictures, you have to release the trigger 20 times to turn the mirror up and then to take the actual picture. This is time consuming, bothersome, causes vibrations and more often then not disturbs the animals, who react to the turned up mirror. The greatest disadvantage is the loss of time. If I wait to take a picture of a flower, dragonfly or butterfly during the couple of seconds when the wind is still, I want to take as many pictures as possible within that tiny time frame, and I donīt want to turn the mirror up five times before every shot.

A second, additional mirror lock up function would be very advantageous in this situation. One where you only need to turn the mirror up for the first picture and it stays up until you give the signal by pressing a little longer than usual, for it to turn back down.

One advantage with the current Canon mirror lock up is, that it works with all exposure programs and not just on the "manual" setting. You can use it with a timer, aperture or automatic program settings.

This would be the ideal programming: 9-0 mirror lock up turned off. 9-1, first trigger release, the mirror turns up, second trigger release you take the picture and the mirror turns back down (this function is available). 9-2, first trigger release, the mirror turns up and stays up for all the following takes until you press the re-set button for a second or two and then the mirror turns back down (this function is missing).


Hoarfrost in Yellowstone National Park

Canon EOS – 1 V, 4.5-5.6/100-400 mm, tripod, Sensia – 100


I bought five new lenses for my new system: 3.5-4.5/24-85 mm, 4.0/70-200mm, 3.5/180mm, 4.5-5.6/100-400 mm and the 4.0/500 mm with the two converters 1.4x and 2x AF. This way I had a working span of 24 to 1.000 mm.

The 24-85mm was basically meant for landscapes in connection with the 70-200. With the focal lengths of 24-200mm you can cover almost the entire spectrum of photographing landscapes. If not, you still have the 1,4x converter.

You have the two lenses (100-400 mm and 500 mm) with the converters for wildlife photography.

The 180 mm macro is actually meant for close-ups of butterflies, dragonflies, mushrooms, water drops, leaves and similar motifs, and the 70-200 with the Canon 500 D front lens attachment.


to the 4.0/70-200 mm

close-range limit: starting at film level approx. 120 cm

with extension tube EF-12 at 100 mm focal length approx. 70 cm

at 200 mm focal length approx. 100 cm

with extension tube EF-25 at 100 mm focal length approx. 55 cm

at 200 mm focal length approx. 90 cm

with extension tube EF-37 at 100 mm focal length approx. 50 cm

at 200 mm focal length approx. 80 cm

with close-up lens 500 D at 100 mm focal length approx. 55 cm

at 200 mm focal length approx. 60 cm

with EF-37 and close-up lens 500 D at 100 mm focal length approx. 40 cm

at 200 mm focal length approx. 50 cm

The Nikkor 4.5-5.6/70-180 mm has a close-up range limit of 37 cm without supportive devices. With extension tubes and close-up lenses guaranteed up to 20cm.

This is where Canon is in need of catching up. An adequate close-range limit for a 4.0/70-200 mm would be 40 or 50 cm. Besides that, an agreeable lens which isīnt very heavy, has a bright picture in the view finder because of an aperture of 4.0 and a large radius for action with a 1.4 x converter up to 280 mm and outstanding sharpness even with an open blind. (see the picture of the butterfly, taken with an open blind, 1.4x converter and AF).


Snow geese in Bosco del Apache, New Mexico

Canon EOS-1V, 4.5-5.6/100-400 mm, tripod, Sensia-100

100-400 mm

The 4,5-5,6/100-400 mm should receive a second generation stabilizer you can use with a tripod, like the one the 300, 400, 500 and 600 mm have. A set opening of 4.0 would be desirable as well. As it is, itīs a fair-weather lens with a limited radius of action if used for serious wildlife photography. It would also be better as a double-tube zoom. A sliding zoom within these focal lengths is very awkward through the manual setting. Whenever possible I have made a habit of using the 70-200 mm with a 1.4X converter instead of the 100-400mm, because it is a lot more pleasant and more accurate to work with.

I dontīt believe Canon meant to have you rather use a lens with converter in order to circumvent the one actually better suitable in terms of focal length.

More than likely I will sell the 100-400 again and replace it with the new 4.0/400mm. The weight and length of it is (almost) identical with the 100-400, but has a largest set opening of 4.0, a stabilizer, which also works from a tripod and no sliding zoom, thank goodness, but rather an inner focus.

It will be a more than interesting question as to the implementation of this lens and which it can replace, with 5.6/560mm and 1.4x converter and 8.0/800mm with 2x converter. How is the quality with the new professional converters and what advantages do you have through the new short and light-weight built? An 800 mm lens of 230mm length and 1.900 gram in weight. Just exactly what can you do with it while taking aerials for instance, holding it in your hands? With 800mm and a stabilizer? This could open brand-new and surprising perspectives.....

To work with or without the fast second motor?

Slower is always better. The more pictures per second, the more unsteady the pictures because of the long shutter times which tend to work the vibrations up (that is something Foto Magazin and Color Foto should test). Most of the time only the first picture turns out really clear. So, a fast series of pictures only when it is really necessary, and only with short shutter speed.

Which is better: mirror lock up or stabilizer?

Mirror lock up gives you clearer pictures than the stabilizer. So, with landscapes and plants use the mirror lock up (whenever you have the time), and the stabilizer with all motifs where speed is of the essence.


Snow geese during sun rise.

Canon EOS-1V, 4.0/70-200 mm, tripod, sensia-100


Great possibilities: intervention in the automatic timer through a wheel.

A fantastic thing is the possibility to shift the exposure of the automatic timer, meaning to readjust it. Up to now you always had to intervene with the plus/minus function if you wanted a lighter or darker slide during the automatic timer which was rather time consuming. Now you only turn the front or back adjustment wheel – depending on if you want or can adjust the time or the aperture – while taking pictures of motifs which deviate from the medium gray scale – in order to quickly readjust the exposure. A great new possibility for wildlife / nature photographers.

How to work with AF

I am not really a user of automatic focus. I only work with it while taking pictures in Africa, since you usually have to react very quickly after the car has come to a halt, otherwise my use of the AF is about 10-20% on the average.

Canon had their technicians run amok, without having practitioners or photographers stop them, and thus they used all possible options to install the AF regardless of use or practicability. The simpler AF-System from the Nikon F-100 is a lot more practicable.

I have come to the following settings as being the most useful for my purposes: for all standard motifs I use the AF-automatic – meaning that all 42 sections are active, with the individual function setting permanently on 4-2.

You can keep the asterisks button pressed if you have a motif which is not in the greater AF-field and you can transfer the sharpness to it when speed is required.

There are many more possibilities to program AF, like i.e. 11-2, where you donīt have to press anything at all and you just move the AF-center with the thumb wheel as fast as possible. But this does not work so well for me, because I canīt set the aperture with the thumb wheel.

Whoever takes a lot of action pictures with an automatic programmer has a good bet going with the individual functions 11-2 and 8-3.

My type of work is manually and timer automatic, whereas you can change timer and aperture rather nicely on both: timer with the front tuning wheel and aperture with the thumb wheel.


Why can you take thirty-six pictures with the EOS-1V without having any film in the camera? 15 years ago, the Nikon F4 already had the technical option of preventing a case a like this.

To take pictures without film could be avoided easily enough through a software command. Canon is able to, but wonīt. Canon offers one of the most expensive SLR Cameras of the world with the EOS-1 V, but if you want to avoid taking pictures without a film you have to purchase a connector cable and the link-software of Canon and have the corresponding programming done on your own. All of this for an additional DM 449,-. Oh happy day....... To have to spend such a large sum of money for this already immensely expensive camera and invest a great amount of time having the software programmed in order to bring this camera up to date with a technology that exists for more than 15 years is a scandal. The programming would cost you a penny instead of DM 449,- if it would be done right there during the manufacturing process.


It is difficult to set your camera exactly horizontal,
without a visible horizon. A level in the viewfinder shoe can help.


In my opinion, too much notice is spent on the wrong aspects more often than not: like for instance if the AF takes 0.03 or 0.04 seconds for a certain way it moves, or if the lens has 127 or 132 lines of resolution in the corners. This is all pretty insignificant during practical work.

No matter if Olympus, Canon, Nikon, Pentax or Minolta, the mechanical and optical qualities of these brand name articles are (with some exceptions) practically always more than sufficient. While leafing through GEO or National Geographic you will not find a single picture of which you could say: this is a picture so technically good and so perfect that it could only have been taken with a lens from "whatever" company. All pictures could have been taken with any one of the band name lenses.

There are much more important things to observe and keep in mind for your own specialized needs during a purchase.

  1. Do you want a viewfinder that shows 100% of the picture or does it matter if only 82% are shown?
  2. Do you work a lot with mirror lock up or not at all? If you do, you should try out how the camera works for and with you before buying it.
  3. Do you often check the depth of field vision? Then you should have a camera that features a depth of field preview button, that is a button you can push in order to see just up to where the depth of field vision reaches with a simulated working aperture and a darker picture in the viewfinder.
  4. Would you rather have a brilliantly bright picture in the view finder?
  5. How heavy is the camera? Can I take the motor off?
  6. Does the camera have a viewfinder shutter? Do I need this or do I only use the manual setting for the exposure? Do I work a lot with a cable trigger or do I always cover the viewfinder with my head in order to keep the light out?
  7. Does the viewfinder have a dioptical equalizer built in or does this specific model only have this possibility as an additional lens (not good). If you are 20 years of age you can ignore this, but if you are 40 years old, you should consider it.
  8. With the zoom lens, will the sharpness stay even without an AF if I change the focal length, or do I have to continuously readjust the focus?


Technical conversation among nature photographers

I for instance would rather take pictures with the light weighted EOS-3 than with the heavy EOS-1V. But the EOS-3 doesīnt have a viewfinder of 100%, no dioptical equalizer and no viewfinder shutter, so that is the reason why I had to choose the EOS-1V.

Donīt forget: Every thing that is tested in all the photo magazines and journals are technical things which can easily be re-checked and confirmed. If the camera is build practically or for your own purposes is something you have to find out for yourself.

Make a list of what you would like to have, what you really need and what you can do without. Then go to your photo dealer and check out the cameras and lenses in question accordingly and see which of them is the most suitable for your purposes.

If there is time, then Lünen (GDT-Festival) or Cologne (Photokina) are best, because the photo dealer does not always have everything in stock.


My equipment is currently the EOS-1V with an EOS-3 casing as back up and the following lenses:

3.5-4.5/20-35 mm

3.5-4.5/24-85 mm

4.0/70-200 mm

3.5/180 mm

4.5-5.6/100-400 mm (will more than likely be replaced with the 4.0/400 mm in summer of 2001)

4.0/500 mm with the 1.4x and 2.0x converters

With this I cover an area of focal length of 20 mm going up to 1.000 mm and that should actually be sufficient for about 99% of my motifs

My personal adjustments on the EOS-1V

The following adjustments are programmed permanently on my personal EOS-1V:

C.Fn-0-0. For the light searcher from the EOS-3.

C.Fn-4-2. The AF is blocked if you push the asterisk button.

C.Fn-9-3. This way the bracketing function will remain when changing your film or lens.

C.Fn.-12. This way you can either turn the mirror lock up on or off.

When you canīt find a ladder in order to take
an adequate picture of "the devils golf course" in Death Valley,
a stool from the hotel room will do just as well.


I hope that no later than 2002/2003 there is a new 500 mm built with 30% less weight and 30% shorter. Meaning rather than 3.8 kg only 2.5 kg and instead of 39 cm in length only 27 cm. This would be an ideal Telephoto lens for wildlife photographers that have to travel a lot by plane, who suffer under the continuing weight restrictions and film-annihilating scanners and who would certainly be unburdened.

If and when it does get built depends more than likely on how the new 4.0/400 mm with the new lenses is taken to, through sales and quality. And it certainly depends on us nature and sport photographers. If we stop buying the out-dated 330-600 telephoto lenses, it will be built sooner. Experience shows that a company holds on to their new products for as long as possible. The longer you can sell a product unchanged, the more money you make with it. A company will put new products up for sale only. when the old ones canīt be sold anymore or if they think they have a tremendous advantage over their competitors. Letīs hope both will be the case with Canon in view of the new generation of telephoto lenses.

In reference to the new generation of other lenses from Canon – with new and lighter materials and stabilizers of the second generation, which work well on a tripod – I could imagine the following three developments from the viewpoint of a photographer:

Set focal lengths:

          4.0/300 mm, length 15 cm, weight 0.8 kg    

         4.0/400 mm, length 23 cm, weight 1.9 kg   

     4.0/500 mm, length 27 cm, weight 2.5 kg

    4.0/600 mm, length 30 cm, weight 3.5 kg


2.8/300 mm, length 15 cm, weight 1.6 kg

2.8/400 mm, length 25 cm, weight 3.5 kg

2.8/500 mm, length 30 cm, weight 4.5 kg

2.8/600 mm, length 35 cm, weight 6.0 kg


4.0/100-400 mm, length 25 cm, weight 2.0 kg

4.0/150-500 mm, length 30 cm, weight 3.5 kg

4.5/200-600 mm, length 35 cm, weight 4.0 kg

Result: The future of wildlife / nature photography with its technical, photographic and pictorial possibilities may yet seem to turn out better than we had ever dare dreamed of....


Desert landscape in Death Valley,
two hour drive away from Las Vegas.

Canon EOS-1V, 4.0/70-200mm, mirror lock up, automatic timer,
cable remote trigger, viewfinder closed, gitzco carbon tripod G-1349
with a Kirk ball head BH-2, Ektachrome-100 VS.

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