As part of a feature that was published in NXT in March 2020 on the Canon EOS R6 mirrorless camera and the Canon RF 800mm F11 STM telephoto lens, the NXT editor went for a couple of morning photo walks at Sungai Api Api and the Pasir Ris Mangrove Boardwalk.
Wildlife photography is a hobby that can be quite expensive, primarily as you need to spend a large amount of cash on an expensive professional-level telephoto lens, which can easily cost S$20,000 for a prime 800mm telephoto lens.
This is why I was very excited when Canon first showed me the RF 600mm F11 STM and RF 800mm F11 STM lens, because I felt that the combination of the EOS R6 with either of these telephoto lenses creates what I feel to be the ultimate wildlife set-up for beginner and enthusiast photographers, especially as cost barrier for entry is quite low, with the EOS R6 at S$3,999, while the 800mm F11 STM is just $1,509!
Now you might reckon that the RF 800mm F11 STM isn’t all that great, as it has a fixed F11 aperture, but when you use it with the new EOS R6, there are a number of serious advantages. One big advantage is the total weight is just 1.94kg, compared to a traditional 800mm DSLR lens, which weighs about 4.5kg. The RF 800mm F11 STM lens has a collapsing mechanism to compact the lens to 199.5mm length when not in use, so I was able to stroll around with the camera and lens simply hanging from its camera strap.
I live near Tampines Eco Green, which makes Sungei Api Api in Pasir Ris park a nice 3.6km walk (one-way) using the PCN, and I stopped to shoot some of the common wildlife in the Sungei Tampines, which included turtles, Grey Herons, Little Egrets and water monitors, and while these creatures are actually used to humans, this doesn’t mean that you can come too close to them. The image of the Grey Heron for this feature was taken from a distance of about 10 metres, and uncropped, and the details are simply astounding. I was shooting 1/800 in ISO500, even in bright sunlight, in case the Heron moved, but it was pretty static.
Once I reached Sungei Api Api, there was a large crowd of photographers gathered at the bridge, primarily due to the antics of two Smooth-Coated Otters. The rockstars of the Singapore wildlife scene are smooth-coated otters, and I shot many images of a pair of otters chasing small fish in the shallows. Again, keeping fast-moving subjects in the viewfinder is a bit difficult, but as the otters swam towards the bridge, I caught this lovely shot. A holdover from my film days, I tend to shoot in as low ISO as possible but realised while snapping this image, that shutter speed is often a priority, and at 1/250 ISO1600, I caught a very clear photo.
Canon created the RF 800mm F11 STM lens for lightness and affordability, and a major cost-saving was by not including the internal components for adjustable aperture. In most cases, the fixed F11 aperture is ok for most situations, but occasionally, you may miss out on background detail, such as this photo, taken at 1/400 ISO1600, of two otters, sunbathing, and you can see the choices I had to make with a narrow field of view when composing this image.
If you’re curious, I photographed in RAW + S JPG, capturing just over 1,000 CR3 images in Canon CR3 RAW that took up 20GB in one of the two 64GB SDXC UHS-II cards I used, and about 1⁄4 the battery of the EOS R6. The EOS R6 has WiFi and Bluetooth, so it was relatively easy to sync to my iPad Air with the Canon Connect app, but I didn’t try streaming directly to Canon’s cloud service while outside my home, as that would use up my mobile data. All images have been converted from CR3 to TIFF utilising Canon’s Digital Photo Professional 4 software, which allowed me to apply a digital lens optimizer but has not been adjusted in any other way.
All images copyright Shawn Chung, and used with permission.