ARTICLE

How the
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
is changing wildlife photography

A jaguar wades through the shallows of a river in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands. Taken by Thorsten Milse on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.
"Normally jaguar are night-time hunters, but they know some animals are relaxing when it's hot, so they check the riverbanks around noon for capybara and caiman," says Thorsten Milse, who captured this jaguar in broad daylight in Brazil's Pantanal region. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 560mm, 1/400 sec, f/5.6 and ISO1600. © Thorsten Milse

Covering some 70,000 square miles, South America's Pantanal region is the world's largest tropical wetland, and has the highest concentration of wildlife on the continent. This makes the national park and UNESCO World Heritage site a magnet for wildlife photography, where conservation-focused nature photographers such as Canon Ambassador Thorsten Milse can track down big players such as jaguar and caiman, along with capybaras, black howler monkeys and colourful macaws and toucans.

On his fifth trip to Brazil's biodiverse Pantanal region, Thorsten spent 15 days in the jungle and on the waterways in search of the wetland's largest predators and Red List endangered species – jaguar, ocelot and giant otter.

This time, he took the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, Canon's new flagship action camera, keen to take advantage of its low-light capabilities when photographing nocturnal hunters, and to put the autofocus system to the test on fast-moving wildlife.

Wildlife photographer Thorsten Milse stands neck deep among the foliage in a Brazilian river.
Despite the risks – including caiman and piranha – Thorsten would regularly get out of the boat to shoot, especially when he wanted to get down to water level. A rugged, weather-resistant camera was essential. © Thorsten Milse
A Jaguar standing growling in the foliage on the banks of a river in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands. Taken by Thorsten Milse.
"For the first three days, we didn't see any good possibilities for jaguar shots," Thorsten recalls. "Sometimes you cannot see the animals – you need a lot of patience." Sometimes the wildlife photographer's patience is rewarded! Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 460mm, 1/320 sec, f/5.6 and ISO1600. © Thorsten Milse

Demanding shooting conditions

"The Pantanal has some special animals living in it," says Thorsten. "The main actor is the jaguar, the biggest predator in South America. It's an endangered species, but there's a really healthy population here, so it's easier to find them to take photos."

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Each day, Thorsten spent the morning cruising the expansive river system, searching for the big cats, which stalk the shallow riverbanks around noon when potential prey like capybara and caiman are resting in the heat. "For the photographer, that's not perfect light, as the sun is directly over your head," he says. "It's also really hot – if you don't protect your camera, it gets burning hot."

During these blazing daylight hours, it can be hard to see clearly on a camera screen, so Thorsten needs his cameras to have an immersive and accurate viewfinder that's good at blocking out external light sources. "The EOS-1D X series cameras have some of the best viewfinders on the market," he says. "You see exactly what you will take."

In addition to scorching temperatures of up to 40°C, high humidity and tropical rainstorms, working in the Pantanal also brings with it some more unusual challenges – particularly when photographing giant otters, speedy underwater swimmers adept at evading the lens.

"It's much easier if you get out of the boat, so you're on eye level with the otters in the water," says Thorsten, who frequently wades into the murky brown rivers. "You need a really solid, weather-resistant camera. But if you have any cuts on your body, piranhas come. Sometimes they check your body – luckily I'm not very tasty!"

A pair of striking blue tropical birds photographed in the jungle in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands by Thorsten Milse.
Thorsten photographed a variety of rare and elusive wildlife on his trip to the Pantanal, which was just part of his large-scale project about endangered wildlife around the world. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 560mm, 1/100 sec, f/10 and ISO3200. © Thorsten Milse
Partially submerged, a giant otter holds its prey in its paws and takes a bite. Taken by Thorsten Milse.
"The giant otters are really noisy, funny and quite difficult to photograph," Thorsten says. "They are perfect divers and underwater swimmers, so they go down and you don't know whether they are coming up on the left or the right side of you." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens and Canon Extender EF 1.4x III at 840mm, 1/1000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO1250. © Thorsten Milse
An ocelot looks intently into the darkness in the jungle in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands. Taken by Thorsten Milse.
"The ocelot is a night hunter, so I tried to take shots with LED lights and using a high ISO." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 560mm, 1/320 sec, f/5.6 and ISO12800. © Thorsten Milse
An ocelot stands on a curving tree branch in the Pantanal region of Brazil, photographed in low light by Thorsten Milse.
"At twilight I used ISO25600, and the AF tracking of the ocelot in the tree worked perfectly." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 335mm, 1/125 sec, f/5.6 and ISO25600. © Thorsten Milse

Even at ISO25600, using a shutter speed of 1/125 sec gave Thorsten clear shots of the ocelots climbing through the trees, which can stand up alongside images taken in daylight. They are good enough quality for prints close to 2 metres in width for the eventual exhibition of his large-scale project about endangered wildlife around the world. Thorsten also took advantage of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III's remarkable continuous shooting performance, capturing bursts of 400-500 RAW files using CFexpress cards in the camera's two card slots.

"With wildlife, most of the good shots are taken at twilight," he says. "You must take photos at ISO3200, ISO6400, ISO12800. You have definitely more images using ISO25600. For a long time, I would have got, out of 500 images, three or four at ISO6400 that were really sharp. Now I have hundreds."

To let in that little bit more light, Thorsten tends not to stick to the rule of thumb that, for sharp results, shutter speed should be set to at least the reciprocal of the focal length – so for a shot taken at 560mm, the shutter speed should be 1/560 sec or faster. The fact that he gets sharp images like those above at this focal length at 1/320 sec, or at 335mm at 1/125 sec, also shows the effectiveness of the Image Stabilization in his Canon IS lenses.

A wading bird stands in the shallows of a river in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands. Taken by Thorsten Milse.
With high humidity, scorching temperatures and tropical rainstorms, South America's Pantanal wetlands present plenty of challenges for the wildlife photographer – including actually spotting the elusive animals. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 65mm, 1/40 sec, f/13 and ISO500. © Thorsten Milse
A profile shot of a toucan shows off its brightly-coloured orange and yellow curved beak. Taken by Thorsten Milse.
The glorious colours of a toucan captured in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 560mm, 1/200 sec, f/6.3 and ISO320. © Thorsten Milse

Fast AF and improved accessibility

"The most important things for taking really good wildlife shots are ISO and AF tracking," says Thorsten. With a new AF sensor with 28 times more resolution than its predecessor, tracking has been given a significant boost on the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, perfect for wildlife photographers requiring pin-sharp shots of moving subjects.

Thorsten was particularly pleased with the camera's new AF button, which allowed him to change the focus point while tracking faster than ever. "It is perfect," he says. "It's much faster than a dial button or the old joystick. You can change its sensitivity, and it's really fast – if an ocelot is jumping from the left to the right in one second, you can move the AF field as quickly as pressing a touchscreen. The button is sensitive and precise and makes it easier to track subjects in low light."

Thorsten was predominately shooting on his wildlife hero lenses, the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM and the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x. When photographing jaguars and otters at distances of around 20 metres with these telephoto lenses, it was especially important for the tracking to remain accurate, in combination with burst shooting.

"If a jaguar is swimming, jumping into the water or marking its territory, you need a fast shutter speed and a really good AF system. With the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, it's easier to track the subject in low light, especially with a telephoto lens, and get sharper photos in the end.

"If you use a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens at 20 metres then it's full frame. If you're shooting a burst, you only have a small space in your frame, so I know that if I take 20 shots, then one will be perfect. Now with the burst rates of 16fps with the viewfinder and 20fps in Live View, you never miss a shot."

Σύνταξη: Lucy Fulford


Thorsten Milse's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their wildlife photographs

A Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with telephoto lens rests on a camera case in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands.

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