Taking the Canon EOS 5D Mark II into the storm

by planetmitch1 Comment

I've always been fascinated by tornadoes and stormy weather – I think it comes from my childhood in Florida – I loved (and still do) watching storms come because of the tension and the drama of the coming storm. I'm torn about tornadoes – they're exhilarating and yet I loathe the damage and destruction that they cause. However, if I were a storm chaser, I think I'd be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark II (reviews) or maybe the Canon EOS 7D (reviews) because of their ability to do both stills and motion. So, when looking at some severe weather images a few weeks ago, I of course checked the EXIF information and discovered this storm chaser who is indeed using the 5D2 to photograph his adventures. His name is name is Mike Hollingshead and his site is called Extreme Instability.

Redrock Micro

Extreme Instability is a website run by Mike Hollingshead and he's tracking all sorts of extreme weather – not just the summer storms and tornadoes, but unusual things like Light Pillars and Auroras as well as Moon Bows and winter ice storms. I contacted Mike to make sure he was ok with me posting a few images and asked him about his experiences with the 5D2.

“I haven't really got a ton of shots with it yet, only getting it this spring. The February and March star trails entry and newer were done with it. The recent tornado ones have a couple video captures in them that should be obvious.

Bowdle South Dakota Violent Wedge Tornado storm

I can say it has made my 17-40L not very up to par, given severe vignetting wide open. I shoot video while chasing too, which all gets tough when trying to keep moving and whatnot, so I usually have the video camera mounted to my window and am trying to hand hold the stills. Lately it's required some fairly high iso's to do so on some dark storms (they really aren't even on there as they weren't worth much anyway). Just cause I need to stop it down to like F7.1 to get rid of most of that vignetting.

Otherwise I use it similarly as I was the XSi before. Often in AV for speed and +1 stop or more offset evaluative.

I did use the thing in some really really cold settings, doing star trails with 30 second exposures to be stacked. Thought I was going to kill the thing from the get go. Several times I did those it became completely encased in frost. Often between -10F and +5F on that stuff. The LCD at one point did get funky with a messed up area, but thankfully that went away once it warmed. I sure didn't think it would. But anyway, I found you can make some crazy star trails if you ISO up to 3200 of all things with noise reduction on to JPGs and have a very clear night. Really pulls the stars out and so long as you don't have any flat contrast things like clouds, the noise is fine.

intense mammatus display south of Aberdeen

I'm not sure if I find the noise on storms much different than that of the XSi, but at least there is more resolution. Sky and clouds are just horrible at showing noise obviously. Haven't really used it yet on lightning but imagine the 50 ISO will be nice for trying to get really close bolts.

So anyway, not sure how much there will be to say. In a large way I've kinda regretted going full frame actually. The corners of the 17-40 are also extremely soft. I just have problems that I didn't see with the XSi and 10-22. I should have thought more about how much more one would then want to spend on lenses to make the full frame worth it.”

So, I noticed that Mike isn't using the 5D2 for video on his blog – he's using a separate video camera – so, why isn't he using the 5D2 for video? “I've really not even considered the 5D II for video. And it's simple why. Stills are important and it just doesn't work on storm chasing to use the same camera for both. Maybe if there wasn't a second gap on video each time you took a still it might be ok. But still it's just far far better to have one for each and I just can't afford two 5D II's or the doubling of lenses to do so either. I never even remember to try it a bit either! The video is with the Panasonic TM700. Works well till low light, but again I'm just too busy messing with stills on the 5D to do video with it.”

Mike also has many really cool shots of things I've never like these “Light Pillars” (read much more about them and how he's photographed them on this page on Mike's blog)

Light Pillars in February 2010 by Mike Hollingshead

And also traditional star trails:

Star Trails by Mike Hollingshead

(Photo credit: all photos copyright Mike Hollingshead – used with permission)



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