Year in the Wild Blog

Outdoor Photo Review – Canon 1DX and 500mm – African Wild Cat and Cape vultures

There’s a great quote that goes something like this:

“These days, people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”

From my point of view, I guess the quote highlights the commercial interests which seem to permeate everything in our lives. And I guess it’s also relevant to the way modern humans – in general – see the natural world around us. Nature is seen as something to be exploited and sold for our own interests, forgetting that in fact we owe our very existence to the Earth and it’s community of ten million species (of which we are just one).

Okay, enough serious talk. The quote is also very relevant to camera gear! Last year I invested in a Canon 1Dx DSLR camera, the top of the range camera whose price I prefer to forget, but whose value I am appreciating more and more. At first, perhaps understandably, I only concentrated on the price, but after using it for several months I’m very glad I dented my bank account. It’s value has become clear.

Retailing currently for about R70 000 from Outdoor Photo, it’s most certainly only for the professional photographer, or the serious wildlife photography enthusiast who has that sort of money to spend, plus another R100 000-odd for a 500mm lens. This is no small amount of money, but here’s the thing: if you don’t have this kit, you’re giving yourself less chance of capturing those classic “high-speed” wildlife photos that make your eyes pop, those photos which capture moments which the naked eye can’t.

I’m still a learner when it comes to photography (that’s one of the reasons I love it so much – there’s always more to know), but having used two Canon 5D Mark 2s and a range of lenses, including a 100-400mm lens, for several years, I realise how superb the Canon 1Dx and 500mm really are.

The technology and capabilities of this camera gear could take up an entire text book, but here are a couple of reasons why I love this particular combination of technology:

1) Extremely rapid shutter rate and intelligent auto-focusing

The Canon 1Dx can take up to 12 RAW photos every second. For a wildlife photograher, this is superb. It allows you to capture those instantaneous, never-seen-again moments which make wildlife photos stand out above your competition. You press the shutter button, and almost instantaneously you have 12 photos on your UDMA card. (Bear in mind, though, that this rate is only possible when shooting at maximum aperture, at 1/1000 of a second or faster, and at a relatively low ISO)

The maximum burst is 38 photos, meaning that you can take 38 photos continously at 12 frames per second before the camera slows down and has to wait for the 18 mega pixel files to load onto the UDMA card. However, depending on the UDMA cards you are using, some photographers have reported capturing a total of about 50 frames before the camera shutter slows down.

If you’re used to getting only around 6 frames per second on your 5D mark 2, then doubling this figure will allow you to capture twice the amount of action, giving you a better chance of photographing that WOW moment – when a lioness licks her cub on the nose, or a fish eagle’s talons dig into a fish.

Then there’s the intelligent auto-focusing. Set your camera to AI Servo, focus on your subject and fire away. The camera and lens will track your subject continously, regardless of how fast it is moving towards you, while you’re pressing the shutter button and taking photos that are pin sharp. It makes photographing subjects like Cape vultures and Bearded vultures a breeze. Together with the rapid shutter rate, the auto-focusing on the 1Dx and 500mm makes these subjects embarassingly easy to photograph.

This juvenile bearded vulture would swoop down past the hide where I was photographing, giving me very little time to lock focus before it flew away again. It was really about trusting the camera to do the I can't claim any credit for this photo!

This Cape Vulture was easier to photograph...I saw it from several kilometres away, and it flew straight at me for a minute or so...then veered off to the right. The tracking autofocus on the Canon 1Dx and 500mm was brilliant, allowing me to get pin sharp images at a rapid shutter rate.

Coming in to land. The vulture came in to land on this rock, and this is just one out of about 30 images I shot from the sequence, all of which took about two seconds!

2) Excellent low light capabilities

My old Canon 5D Mark 2 was very good at shooting in low light. And my 1Dx is the same. There’s very little grain at high ISOs, and I can shoot at up to an ISO of 102 400 and still get half decent results, although I prefer to stay at a far lower ISO if possible. I took this photo below of an African Wild Cat near Desert Rhino Camp in Damaraland in north-west Namibia. The wild cat was about 100 metres from our vehicle, and it was well before sunrise. Because of the poor light, I couldn’t actually see the cat very well without my 500mm lens. My ISO was 5 000, and my aperture 4,5. I then cropped the photo, and this is the result.

The view of the African wild cat through my 500m lens...which is the photo I took.

And the cropped photo...I'm amazed by the low-light capabilities of the 1Dx...because it was well before sunrise, I could hardly see the wild cat with my naked eyes, yet the camera has no problem giving me a half-decent photo of a shy, elusive species. Magic!!

In the coming months, when I’m in the Kgalagadi, I’ll be reviewing more camera gear from Outdoor Photo

For more, go to and Check out my Flickr photos at and my Instagram photos at Twitter on

Thanks to my partners Cape Union MartFord EverestGoodyear, and K-Way.

As well as WildCardEeziAwnFrontrunnerGlobecommHetznerNational LunaOutdoor PhotoSafari Centre Cape Town, Tracks 4 Africa, and Vodacom.

Conservation partners BirdLife South AfricaBotswana Department of Wildlife and National ParksCapeNatureEastern Cape Parks and TourismEzemvelo KZN WildlifeGorongosa National ParkiSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

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