Markus Varesvuo uses the Canon EOS 90D in the woods.

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

Markus Varesvuo on why the Canon EOS 90D is the ideal camera for wildlife photography

Living in Helsinki, Finland, award-winning wildlife photographer Markus Varesvuo is never far from the wilderness that makes his heart soar.

Markus has been passionate about wildlife since his teens and was a keen bird watcher and photographer. In 2005, he decided to turn his hobbies into a career, giving up his job in business management to become a professional wildlife photographer.

Markus was a Canon user from the beginning of his adventures with photography, starting with the film cameras. Now, as a successful photographer and author of several bird photography books, he usually uses the pro-level, high-speed Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and super-telephoto lenses.

Markus became the first photographer in Europe to put the Canon EOS 90D advanced DSLR through its paces. Here, he explains how this camera helped him to capture the shots that he loves, and reveals how aspiring wildlife photographers and nature enthusiasts can make the most of its features.

With a 32.5 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and a powerful processor in a compact DSLR body, the Canon EOS 90D is a highly responsive camera that enabled Markus to capture exquisite detail. The APS-C sensor takes you closer by increasing effective telephoto reach, while autofocus (AF) is handled by a 45-point all cross-type system, which is flexible and fast. The collective focus area is split into zones, or individual points, which you can select directly with the joystick.

Fast continuous shooting at up to 10 frames per second (fps) with Intelligent Tracking and Recognition (iTR) focus tracking make the Canon EOS 90D ideal for wildlife photographers like Markus, for whom speed is crucial.

Whether it’s a swallow launching into flight, a bear hunting or a diving bird gliding by, as soon as Markus glimpses an opportunity for a great photograph, he must seize it. “The Canon EOS 90D is a fast camera," he says. "I've been shooting mainly with the pro-level Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the focusing speed is comparable."

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When it comes to what to focus on, finding wild areas with great subjects in Finland is easy, Markus says. He is quick to reassure aspiring wildlife photographers that "wherever you are, you have a chance to find nice places. Birds especially can be found anywhere – in the city, maybe in a park or on a shoreline. You don't have to travel hundreds of miles, they're closer than you think."

Local knowledge is key, and returning to the same location can save time and help you to refine ideas using different light and angles. "The most important thing in bird photography is to know my species. How close can I get? Do I need a hide? If you disturb the birds you won't get the shots," he says.

Markus's wildlife photography tips

1. Use every focusing point

Markus might have to wait hours or even days for the perfect moment, but being patient is just one of the many necessary virtues of a wildlife photographer. You also have to be fast to respond, because the action can be over in seconds. "I have very quick reactions," he explains. "But you need a lot from the camera gear and optics. The more frames per second the camera can handle the better, and [the same is] true for autofocus."

As any budding bird photographer will tell you, getting sharp pictures, especially of birds in flight, is one of the most challenging subjects for any camera's AF-system.

"Normally, when I take pictures of flying birds, I use all of the camera's focusing points – that's 45 in the Canon EOS 90D. The autofocus is so good and versatile it's easy to keep the bird in the focusing area. The only thing I tend to change is the tracking sensitivity. If the background is busy I move it down," he says.

2. Track movement with AI Servo mode

One of Markus's favourite birds to photograph is the black-throated diver. While these birds swim gracefully on the water's surface, there isn't much contrast between the summer grey plumage of the diver's head and the dark backgrounds that Markus favours.

Still, it's an easy task for the Canon EOS 90D to track the bird's fiery red eye and keep it in focus. "The divers move on the water quite slowly, so I use nine focusing points," Markus says. "I use AI Servo to follow the bird and keep it sharp, and the joystick to choose the different focusing points. Situations in bird photography change very rapidly, so the joystick makes it easy," he adds.

3. Freeze action with a fast shutter speed

High burst rates are crucial for capturing the fleeting moments when the birds reveal themselves, such as when catching prey or during their characteristic mating displays. "To get the perfect shot, you have to have the birds in the right position and the 10 frames per second helps me to get the best out of the situation," Markus says.

The birds don't always break cover under perfect lighting conditions, and even during Finland's glorious long summer days, Markus often finds himself working in low light. "In those conditions, to freeze action you have to use a high ISO setting. It's an everyday thing for me to use ISO 6400, or even higher," Markus says. The Canon EOS 90D offers a maximum ISO of 25,600, making low light shooting trouble-free.

You also need a fast shutter speed, but even that depends on the bird. "For barn swallows, I need 1/3200 second; great grey owls are not very fast, so 1/2000 sec, even 1/1000 sec can be enough. Even in good light, you need quite a high ISO setting to reach this kind of shutter speed," he adds.

4. Capture more with a long-life battery

Whether Markus is photographing water birds on the surface of a lake, or owls under the dense canopy of a Finnish forest, he is often miles from any form of human habitation, so having plenty of battery power is essential. While it's relatively easy to set off with several fully charged batteries, it's really important that once in use they last a long time.

The Canon EOS 90D has a long 1,300-shot battery life and during the warm summer months, Markus says one battery can last him a day.

The back of a Canon EOS 90D, showing an owl on the screen.

5. Shoot at a high resolution

Markus supplies his images to magazine and book publishers, and the size of image required can vary substantially, but the quality always needs to be of the highest standard. "My pictures end up in many places and are used in many ways. Prints for exhibitions need to be up to a metre wide or bigger," he says.

Not only does the Canon EOS 90D's 32.5 megapixel sensor mean that Markus can supply image files for large prints, there's also more than enough resolution left after cropping. "That gives me a lot of freedom afterwards on the computer to compose just as I want to."

Written by Kevin Carter

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