The New Canon 100-400 mm f/5.6 IS II Lens

Author: Bruce Taubert

Butterfly -- © Bruce Taubert

Butterfly — © Bruce Taubert

I know that equipment reviews are booooring but I have not been so excited about a new lens in, well forever. Canon just released the 100-400 mm f/5.6 IS II lens and I want to let you know about my experience with it. The older 100-400 mm f/5.6 IS lens was built in the late 1990’s and was, at best OK. For decent images it has to be stopped down to f/8, the close focus is 6 feet, the push-pull zoom mechanism is a dust magnate, and the Image Stabilizer old school. It was a great lens for high-speed hummingbird photography and, because of its utility, I did take it on plenty of trips. The results were just fair! I ended up purchasing the new (at that time) 70-200 mm f/2.8 IS II and using it with a 2X teleconverter. The results were MUCH better but the autofocus was rather slow-too slow for much of the flying bird photography I do.

Snail Kite -- © Bruce Taubert

Snail Kite — © Bruce Taubert

When Nikon came out with the new 80-400 f/5.6 lens I contemplated purchasing a Nikon camera just so I could get the advantages of the new telephoto zoom. My mother would have turned over in her grave? Then Canon offered the 200-400 f/4 with built in 1.4 teleconverter. The test results were wonderful. The lens was touted as being as sharp as prime lenses throughout its range and it only lost a little quality when the teleconverter was injected. I really wanted that lens until I saw the price tag-an amazing $11,000. Again, I thought about the Nikon!!!!

Ptarmigan -- Bruce Taubert

Ptarmigan — Bruce Taubert

Finally, Canon, without hardly any fanfare announced the new 100-400 mm f/5.6 IS II lens. I found out via an email announcement from B&H. I pre-ordered the lens that same day. And, amazingly, Canon met their production date and soon the man in the brown vehicle delivered it to my door.

Was my $2200 well spent?

Great Blue Heron -- © Bruce Taubert

Great Blue Heron — © Bruce Taubert

My first opportunity to give the new lens a trial was an April trip to Florida where I was going to take images of osprey at Blue Cypress Lake and then lead an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop in the Everglades. Since I would be photographing the osprey from a boat I needed a lens that I could handhold but would give me a decent telephoto reach and on the workshop I was assisting and training participants so I was forced to catch images when there was a break in my other duties (it was impractical to carry a tripod and 500 mm lens).

Osprey -- © Bruce Taubert

Osprey — © Bruce Taubert

The light was great, I was shooting fast shutter speeds at f/7.1 and the resultant images were fantastic. Ninety percent of my shots were tack sharp, the lenses autofocus was amazingly fast, and the zoom mechanism quite easy to use. But, I was not always able to work in great lighting conditions so I was still wondering how the new lens would operate in my “normal” bad or variable lighting.

The following month a few of my friends and I went to Colorado to photograph sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, and greater prairie chickens at their leks. A lek is a place where all of the male birds gather to attract the females to their beds. The action is hectic, fast moving, and about half of the ritual begins one half hour before sunrise in really bad light. Because we never knew how close the grouse would be to our blinds I needed a telephoto zoom, and a good tripod, to take maximum advantage of these conditions. We had great lighting conditions on the second, third, and fourth days. The first and fifth days were dismal. Predawn I was shooting at f/5.6, around 1/200 sec., and high ISO. After sunrise life was better.

Greater Prairie Chicken -- © Bruce Taubert

Greater Prairie Chicken — © Bruce Taubert

Wide open, low light, and slow shutter speeds did not did not phase this wonderful little lens. My images were sharp, the autofocus handled the low light great, and, again, the zoom was easy to use. Depending on the camera body I am using I now have a lens that operates from 100-640 mm, can be shot wide open when necessary, is sharp at all focal ranges, and has an image stabilization that is beyond my dreams.

Give this one an A+++


Bruce Taubert is a biologist and Wildlife Photographer and instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Photographing the Moonrise – Part 2 of 2

Author: Vern West

Your chance to practice photographing the moon-rise is right around the corner.  June 2nd is the next full moon.

As mentioned in Part 1 of my blog, there are some key factors to review prior to shooting the moon-rise.  The first is identifying the day before the full moon appears, which is this case will be June 1st.  Secondly, you will need to calculate the time the moon rises, which can be determined with the help of a smart phone app like LunaSolCal.  Once you have this knowledge and have scouted your location you will be ready to setup your shoot.

While the sun is still up, use your aperture priority mode and capture the scene.  This is to ensure that both the moon and landscape have been exposed correctly.  In Arizona it’s the last few minutes before sunset that offers the most pleasing light to both the moon and the landscape.


If you capture the moon while the sun is still high in the sky the moon will be washed out.  Pay attention to your exposure as the sun is setting as it can cause the moon to be over-exposed. Remember the moon is illuminated by the sun but the sunlight gets diffused by the atmosphere at sunset so the landscape becomes not as bright as the moon. To monitor this situation, I usually have the highlight alert turned-on (AKA the blinkies) to let me know when this occurs.


Getting the moon-rise at exactly the right time to show landscape colors and texture in the moon can be very frustrating and take time to scout but getting it right can produce some really stunning photos. Even if you don’t succeed the first time there is always next month!

Navajolands and People – An Amazing Journey to an Award Winning Photo

Author: Ken Brown

Navajolands” with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops is the trip of a lifetime ! There are so many components to this adventure, and in addition to understanding and exploring key places and activities of Native American history and people, there are exciting photographic opportunities at every turn…

For me personally, I walked away with both a huge increase in knowledge of the Navajo culture, and a major award winning photo – my first in 40+ years of photography.

_DSC2073r2We started off the workshop with a Navajo model shoot, up on a hilltop at sunset. This concept of combining location, landscape, and people is a common thread in this workshop and provides so much more than “just” the landscape photo. Leroy DeJolie is truly expert at combining these elements, and gives freely and openly with his experience and teaching.

Here’s my own hilltop, sunset image, of a previous “Miss Navajo” award winner.

It was a lovely day, and with Leroy’s guidance, the participants used a reflector or their own off camera flash, to expose for the model and for the background. Learning techniques like this, mixing lighting, was part of the instruction.

In my case, this image also ended up being used by AHPW for their own advertising purposes. Students do occasionally have their images _DSC2717-2used (with their permission and with photo credits of course), so this is a great way to find yourself in print.

We spent several days after the shoot exploring Canyon de Chelly. A truly iconic location, photographed extensively by Ansel Adams. We had an opportunity to follow in his footsteps, see what he saw, and try to capture our own vision of this amazing location.

We had a cloudy and slightly rainy day, which just added to the atmosphere, and really allowed us to better capture the colors of the rock. We didn’t mind the rain at all, and walked through the drops.

Here’s a scene that you might recognize, one that Ansel Adams had perfected.
What a feeling to follow in his footsteps…

During our exploration of Canyons de Chelly, our local Navajo tour guides shared _DSC2651-2lots of history and stories of their culture and people. One of our guides had particular expertise, and we had a live demonstration crafting hand made stone arrowheads.

We then decided to make an impromptu stop in the Canyon to visit a local Navajo woman who hand weaved rugs. What was really unique about her craft is that she managed the entire process herself, including raising the sheep that would supply the wool. They were curious about our cameras and posed quite nicely for us.

What a great way to end our visit to the Canyon.

Then we loaded up the van and headed to Window Rock to spend _DSC2461-2several days at the yearly Navajo Fair. Having Leroy, a local Navajo, as the Photography leader of our group gave us unparalleled access to the Fair. We were able to get everywhere, behind the scenes, and right up close and personal into all of the events. As you know with any event photography, having this type of access presents opportunities that would be completely impossible under other conditions, and being in the right place, at the right time, in the right venue, was what ultimately helped my capture my award winning image. I’ll tell you all about it in the next Blog on “Navajolands and People”. But if you – want to learn more about the Navajo culture, see and photograph iconic locations and people, and have your own opportunity for award winning photos, this is the workshop for you !!


Ken Brown is a portrait and nature photographer and an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop Trip Leader.

‘Shooting Your Wet & Wild Adventures’

Author: Kerrick James

Running Hance Rapid on the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National

© Kerrick James

When I started shooting seriously from canoes, kayaks and rafts in the Age of Film, I found a used ‘shooting bag’ made by a German company called EWA-Marine. This bag allowed limited control thru right hand operation but did permit excellent image quality as the lens was mated to an optical glass port. Changing film meant opening the dry bag in a wet environment, always a risky act, but digital capture and improved automation have made it possible to concentrate on composition while running giant rapids. And their new designs are much improved and give you more lens options, for both APS-C and full frame bodies.

Just remember, Right Hand for Shooting and Left Hand for Holding On for dear life as swimming with a camera while running the Colorado River in Grand Canyon is not meant for bucket lists. I’ve rafted the great river of the Southwest many times, and also kayaked in Alaska, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, etc., using the EWA-Marine bag and/or waterproof cases secured to the boat ropes by multiple carabiners, and have yet to lose or damage any gear to water leaks.

Don’t be afraid to shoot through big the rapids and from kayaks. With the right protection you can make stunning adventure and scenic images from water level, and beyond…

Kerrick James is an adventure and travel photographer and a seasoned Arizona Highways Photo Workshop instructor. @kerrickjames

Photographing the Moonrise – Part 1 of 2

Author: Vern West


We’ve all seen photos of a seemingly full moon-rise with beautiful sunset colors on the surrounding landscape and the moon bright and full. Here is how it is done without trickery or Photoshop skills.

The day before the full moon, it rises before the sunsets and yet it is close enough to full that most observers won’t notice the difference. So the trick is to determine what time and at what azimuth the moon will rise.


Azimuth simply means what compass heading.  The moon is at it farthest South heading in mid-summer and farthest North heading in mid-winter. I typically use the  smartphone app, LunaSolCal to determine the azimuth. Remember the azimuth is based on true North so you will have to correct your compass for the declination in your area. Here in Central Arizona it is about minus 11 degrees. The smartphone app will also give you the time of the moon-rise at the true horizon. Hills, mountains or other obstructions will delay the actual moon-rise from the time given.  MoonriseImage-01

MoonriseImage-05Armed with the knowledge of time and azimuth you are ready to scout for locations to shoot the moon. Being primarily a landscape photographer, I like to get out of the city and find a mountain or some other natural landmark to capture the moonrise. This does require guess work as to when the moon will actually be visible and if it shows before the sunsets.  Remember we want the sun to still illuminate the landscape.

Tune in next Friday, May 29, 2015 for Part 2 on how to capture great moon photos.

Vern West is a nature photographer and trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Phoenix Mural Art Transforming Roosevelt District

Author: Jeff Insel

Gondola and SwanI’ve always been intrigued and interested in capturing photos of some of the graffiti and mural art that’s visible around the downtown Phoenix area. I finally got motivated to do just that while participating in a “Photo Walk” in the Roosevelt Row area a few weeks ago. We met at 9:00 a.m. near Garfield St and 5th Street, just south of Roosevelt Street. Within just a couple of square blocks there is enough street art to keep you occupied for a few hours. I had wanted to work with my 50mm prime and just see what I could do with that. However, I later switched to my 18-200 mm for the wider angle and zoo opportunities.  Of course the crop factor is 1.5 with my Sony A65.  Many of the murals take up whole walls, a couple two stories tall. The art is not only found on buildings, but on dumpsters, trash cans, signs and even storage containers – now being used to set up small, temporary galleries on Roosevelt. I really like the bright colors, and the clever use of space, my favorite being a black and white figure painted on a door, with a metal security gate painted to look like a jail cell – see photo.

With the temperatures starting to rise and earlier sunrise times I would recommend starting at 7:00 – 8:00 a.m.  I’d also keep it simple and just carry an 18-70 or 18-200 lens and avoid carrying everything while spending a few hours wandering the few blocks with a heavy backpack. It’s a fun way to start a weekend morning when you’re thinking about what to do with your day.

Jeff Insel is an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop trip leader.

A Walk in Sabino Canyon

Author: David Huffman


© David Huffman

Sabino Canyon, located immediately North East of Tucson, is a national park worthy of a trek for any nature-lover or photographer.   Many locals go there for a weekly walk.  There are multiple trails to explore, and the main road is about 4 miles and fully paved.  They don’t allow private vehicles any longer, but there is a tram that stops at 9 different points if you wish to get on and off.  The road can easily be walked in about 2 to 3 hours up and back, or just take the tram up (hill) and walk down as I did.  During the spring and early summer the river will flow and provide some good reflections but the later summer may not have any water at all.

I got a late start, one Friday afternoon, getting to the trail about 4 PM.  It was rather warm, about 96° that afternoon, which just goes to show that living in Arizona for 10 years changes your perspective on temperatures. Because I knew it was warm, I decided today I leave most of my photographic gear in the car, and took just one camera and one lens.  I chose a Nikon D810 and the all-in-one Nikon 28-300mm VR lens.  Some websites criticize this lens for sharpness, I don’t have any issues with it.  Using one long-range zoom lens, also means that I’m not changing lenses in the field and possibly getting dust on my sensor.  From experience, I found that I can shoot this lens critically sharp down to one 1/125th of a second, using VR, and my favorite aperture is F/8.  I also like to use a polarizing filter to enhance nature’s colors and darken the blue sky.

The first photo was taken using these settings, and the image was improved using DXO optics V. 10.  I added clarity, adjusted contrast and saturation slightly.


© David Huffman

The second image is an HDR image, a combination of 3 images with a range from -2 to +2 stops, then combined using Photomatix Essentials, a simple software program for blending images.  I chose not to exaggerate the image, but rather wanted to increase the contrast range to accommodate good detail in the sunlit mountain top and the shadows of the foreground.

You’ll find more images and information, including eBooks on travel and landscape photography on my website,  Try one of our Arizona Highways Photo Workshops to learn and share more photographic fun!

Happy Shooting!