Belted Kingfisher: Testing Canon’s New 2x Extender III

July 25, 2013

Last Saturday I headed to my favorite spring branch to try out my new Canon 2x teleconverter, officially called the Canon Extender EF 2x III. As most of you know I rarely make an image, at least of a bird, without my trusty Canon 1.4 teleconverter but I’ve always been a bit leery of the 2x as it steals another full stop of light which results in slower focus acquisition and shutter speed. Also, in spite of the fact that the Canon 500/4 is razor sharp with the 1.4 TC, I had my doubts that big lens could perform so well with the more powerful teleconverter.

My concern about sharpness was immediately assuaged when I tried the new extender on some backyard birds only a few hours after the UPS man dropped it off on my porch. The images, which were captured at around 1/100 sec at f/8, which is wide open with the 2x attached, were as crisp as I’d ever seen from my camera/lens combo. But the next morning was the real test as I knew light would be limited in the thick riparian corridor where I planned to make my stand.

After a restless night of sleep, I made the hour drive in the dark to my hunting spot and waded upstream for another 30 minutes. I finally plopped down in my turkey chair about 30 minutes before sunrise and trained my lens/converter combo upstream in anticipation of a river otter or warbler encounter. By the time the sun began edging over the sycamore trees to my rear a quick check revealed my shutter speed to be only 1/30 sec at ISO 400, or in other words “very slow.” I was shooting from my Gitzo tripod, as always, so I knew if I could get a critter to stand still for a fraction of a second, I had enough shutter speed for a sharp image. Unfortunately, otters and warblers do not like to stand still.

As I sat in the chair, gazing upstream, I noticed a new piece of driftwood jutting straight out over the stream from a tangle of brush at the base of a tree. The stream had flooded since my previous visit and the “landing site” was a new feature in my field of view. I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, what a perfect spot for a kingfisher to land.” Now I promise that I’m not making this up for the sake of this story but just as I began thinking about kingfishers, I heard the familiar rattle of the species and a moment later, a female belted kingfisher landed right on the piece of driftwood I was studying. I didn’t even have to move my lens because it was already focused on the new perch. As soon as the kingfisher landed, I was taken by the extent to which it filled my frame; the 2x converter was doing its job beyond my expectations. But would it give me a nice image?

The kingfisher, a young female, based on its incomplete rusty belt and mixed colors of its upper belt, gave me plenty of time to capture the featured image of this post. Although the bird was about 75 feet away, and in poor light, I was happy with the result. I framed the image with the bird a little farther to the left than I normally would have for such a composition because I wanted to include the end of the piece of driftwood in the shot.

When the kingfisher finally took flight, it came toward me and landing on an even closer perch. It stuck around long enough for me to swing my gimbal head to the right and get the second image of this post. Even though my shutter speed was still a dismal 1/40 sec, the stability of my tripod and gimbal, combined with the integrity of my well-worn 500/4 resulted in another decent shot of a species that is rarely photographed well. I was hooked on the new piece of camera gear as the alternative way to increase my focal length would have been to upgrade to a 600/4 from my beloved 500/4. The new Canon 600/4 is running a little shy of $13,000 so you can see why I was so pleased!

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I know I say this about almost every bird in Missouri but the belted kingfisher is one of our true gems. It is a beautiful and noisy waterbird of incredible hunting prowess. I love to watch one drop from a perch and hover just above the water before plunging in to snatch a minnow into oblivion. How unfortunate for that minnow if it is on the large size because the kingfisher will then proceed to mercilessly thrash it on a tree limb until it is completely limp and much easier to swallow.

The belted kingfisher is a visual treat with its striking color contrast, huge bill and my favorite attribute—its tiny little feet. I also like the little white spots in front of the eyes and the ragged double tuft of kingfisher blue. Females are especially beautiful as they have a rusty-colored belt below the upper belt of blue. It is rare that a female is more striking than a male in the bird world. I’ve heard a few theories as to why but perhaps the belted kingfisher just skipped school the day that the laws of natural selection were dispensed.

I hope you enjoy this first post of many to come with the assistance of my new 2x converter. Obviously, it will not be helpful in many of my shooting situations but it sure feels nice to have another tool in my camera bag. I can’t wait for the fall duck migration. No lens is ever long enough for ducks! Speaking of ducks, watch for one of my duck photos in the soon-to-be-released 2014 Ducks Unlimited Calendar. I won’t tell you which duck image was selected so it can be a surprise, but I’m always game for entertaining guesses. 🙂

Thanks for looking,

DB

Female Belted Kingfisher (Featured Image): Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS with Canon 2x TC III Extender; 1/30 sec @ f/8; ISO 400; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II Gimbal Head; converted and processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional

Female Belted Kingfisher (Bonus Image): Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS with Canon 2x TC III Extender; 1/40 sec @ f/8; ISO 400; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II Gimbal Head; converted and processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional

4 comments on “Belted Kingfisher: Testing Canon’s New 2x Extender III”

  1. Enjoyed both the content and the technical aspects of the image. Truly, Nature Frames is wildlife and photography! Thank you.

  2. That worked out really well. I haven’t used my 2x extender much – maybe I’ll have to give another try.


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