Canon 1DX Mark II and Burrowing Owl, Part 1

I would have never believed I would say this.

If you are on the fence of deciding whether to upgrade to the new Canon 1DX Mark II or not, my advice to you, after two weeks of intense use, can be summarized into three words.

Buy. It. Now.​

Hate to sound like a Canon spokesperson, which I'm not. But the reality is, the 1DX Mark II is light years ahead of the 1DX.

I admit I bought the camera two weeks ago on an impulse. While reviewing some photos I just took at a recent trip to photograph the burrowing owl, I scrolled to a picture which I had dreamed about but also had haunted me for two years (and the picture wasn't of a burrowing owl. I will explain in future posts) because I missed the shot last time.

This time, I nailed it. Or so I thought. At least viewing from the camera LCD. Then later when viewed 100% on the monitor, I saw the focus was off again. I fell off a cliff into the abyss yet again.

Choosing the high road, I didn't blame on myself.

Must be the camera. I was sure I nailed it when I saw it in the viewfinder...

Immediately I went to B&H to sign up on the 1DX Mark II alert list because everywhere else were out of stock​.

But as my next trip was coming up, I still hadn't heard nothing from B&H. I started to panic because the photo opportunities didn't wait for nobody. It's wildlife photography after all. Once I missed the season, I might have to wait for another year, or forever.

Suddenly I remember an email my buddy Steve (who roomed with me in the Canadian Arctic in Feb) sent me few weeks ago that Hunt's camera had a few Mark II left. At that time, I didn't even open the email, thinking to myself, nah I don't need another camera. People always wanted new toys. I was better than that. I pride myself for not following the trend this time.

Anyways, I dug up that email and contacted Steve. He instantly got me the contact of the camera store. "Only one left in stock." I was told. Making sure the $6,000 purchase wouldn't be rejected by the credit card company and eventually making me lose this last unit​, I called the credit card company to make sure they okayed this transaction. Then I called the camera store. 

"Does it come with that CF...ast card?" I asked, not quite sure how to pronounce it. Didn't quite matter as it's the only one left and I would buy it anyways.​

"Yes, it is the premium package."

"And the transaction went thru. You should receive it by Friday."​

I was a bit emotional, thinking about the weekend prior to that, where I went to the secret photography location alone. Special thanks to my good friend Loi.

It was 116F that morning. Just two months ago, I was in the Canadian Arctic fighting -45F weather with -55 windchill. I marveled at how ​human body could endure such a temperature difference (with the correct clothing).

I arrived at 4:50am when it was still dark. I opened the car door, the heat wave cooked the skin of my face and my hands. The immense smell of cow poops reminded me of my days searching for bobcats in Coalinga, which was more effective than Red Bull to wake me up. 

I was recovering from an adrenaline rush. Just 15 minutes ago, I was blinded by the high beam light of an incoming truck on the opposite lane while driving on the two-lane highway. Then once the truck passed me, I gained back my vision, and saw a big pair of dark eyes staring at me-- a grey fox was standing right in my lane thirty feet away as I was driving at 70 mile per hour.

Just imagine. I didn't sleep at all after a long day at work and started driving at 1am. It's been nonstop for 3 hours, with me barely staying awake after finishing up the red bull in a new yellow bottle.

I turned the car sideway with the reflex, which I shouldn't have. After a short and sharp tire screeching sound, I pulled the car back to the lane and avoided the impact with the fox. My heart almost jumped out as I grab the steering wheel tight and miraculously I was still in one piece.

At the destination, I stepped out of the car and walked down a slope. I heard a loud screeching sound from a distance and then I saw a dark shadow flying by. Must be a barn owl. Ever since I started wildlife photography, I got to experience many of these unexpected wildlife encounters in wee hours which I treasured a lot. Except if they were on the road.

I continued walking towards a ditch.

I realized the smell was from the infested still water down there. While setting up my tripod among the tall grass up to my knees, I also found out I forgot to bring an important thing-- insect repellent. I attracted all the mosquitoes in the area, probably in the thousands. So many of them landed near my eyes that my swollen eye lids became so heavy I could barely see. The mosquitoes started flying in thru my sleeves, and the opening between my pants and my boots. I heard thunders as they hovered near my ears, which caused me a headache. ​It was way worse than Alaska. I had to constantly wipe a big chunk of mosquitoes away from my face while trying to look through the viewfinder.

Sometimes you didn't dare to look back at certain moments. It was one of those.

But this time, one week later, not only did I come with the brand new 1DX Mark II, I also sprayed all my exposed skin with insect repellent, except my palms because I didn't want the chemical to melt my camera.​

"WOW" was the word that came to mind when I clicked the shutter the first time. I didn't even have time to take the camera out of the box before the trip. So it was the first time I put the battery in and pressed the shutter. ​The sound was muscular and composed. I guess it must be the sound of 14-frames-per-second. Geez I don't know what I am talking about.

And I always thought the 1DX shutter sounded nice.

The feel of the shutter was much more crisp and solid than the 1DX. ​I had an instant respect to this new machine. Though I didn't need 14 frames. Anything 8 frames or above was good for me. But I wasn't complaining.

Then I reviewed the first few photos on the camera LCD. The color was so visually different and more accurate to the scene than the 1DX. (Later, I checked the photos at 100% on my 27 inch computer monitor. I couldn't tell the difference on noise level and details for photos taken at ISO 3200 and ISO 8000).

Before I talk about how the auto focus tracking being 10 times better than the 1DX, here's one of the first few pics I took with the 1DX Mark II.​ I have dreamed about this shot for 5 years. The mysterious setting. The big pupils. The foreground blocking his body and half of his face. When I saw this, everything else, the mosquitoes, the danger on the road, the long drive, the smell, the heat, don't matter anymore.

Burrowing owl, California. Canon 1DX Mark II, Canon 600mm F/4 II, 1.4x III teleconverter, f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 2500, RRS tripod.

In the next few days, I will write a few more blog posts to talk about the different aspects of the new camera (such as image details, AF, sharpness, video, and many more) and my encounter with the burrowing owl.

If you have any particular questions about the 1DX Mark II, please write on the comment below and I will try to answer it or address it in the upcoming posts.

If you don't want to miss any of these posts, I send out a weekly email to those who signed up for my mailing list. You can sign up by entering your email below:

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As you may know, I rarely sell any of my photos unless I really really like it, or it has been displayed at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. But I couldn't resist this time. If you are ever inclined to purchase a print of this cute owl, I'm offering a limited number of prints:

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4 Comments

  1. Bonnie Bushaw on June 22, 2016 at 9:20 am

    Such beauty you evoke as you meaningfully deliver with precision your rich photos and stories; your wildlife photography is enhanced by special oration of much detail explaining how these intimate images are sought and procured. Thank. you. for. sharing.

    • Tin Man Lee on June 22, 2016 at 10:14 am

      Hi Bonnie, really appreciate your kind and beautiful words. It means a lot to me, and I am so glad to share this memorable experience. But wait for it, there is an upcoming story in this trip that’s CRAZY.
      Tin Man

  2. Gary Kunkel on June 23, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    Great image Tin Man. Burrowing owls are outstanding subjects. Also an informative description of the advantages of the new 1DX MKii. My wife gave me one for our 45th anniversary (pretty nice gift for sure) I think the first time I used it was with you up in Sequoia. I completely agree with your assessment of the awesome auto focus capabilities of this wonderful camera. Looking forward to your next article about the 1DX Mark II. Best to you. Please keep posting your outstanding wildlife images.

  3. Pat Brown on July 1, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    Wonderful evocative image. Instead of a DEET mosquito repellant, use one containing picaridin. It’s as effective as DEET and won’t melt your camera. Picaridin is more widely used in Europe, but you can find it in the USA.

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