Canon EOS-R bird photography

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I had the opportunity to use an EOS-R with the 500mm f/4 IS ii for a few days. I’m normally a Nikon shooter, so it took a bit to get back up to speed on the Canon interface, but I think I got the hang of it enough to provide some insight. I’ve also used the Nikon Z7, so I’ll provide some comparisons. I think both are an excellent camera and mostly just have different interfaces. I will have a more detailed review with sample shots on my website soon.

Summary: Although the EOS-R is a great camera, like the Z7, I do not think the autofocus and subject tracking is up to doing BIF. Even for stationary subject, the EOS-R subject tracking wanders over the frame. Like the Z7, if you are not already kind of focused, the EOS-R takes a bit to lock on to the subject.

Overall, the camera takes fantastic photos and the 500 f/4 worked like a champ once it got focus. When it worked, it worked great. When it didn’t it hunted a fair bit or locked on to the wrong thing. I took some night time shots with flash and was able to manual focus very well even without any aids (peaking and the such do not work when it’s too dark for the AF system).


I like the fully articulating LCD screen that can be turned to face into the body. With the EVF, I almost never used the LCD.

I like having the menu button on the left and the playback button on the right. It is easy to press playback one handed to review a photo (in the EVF!). Nikon got this wrong on the Z7.

The EVF is good. I spent long times looking through it waiting for a bird to do something interesting. No eye strain. The eye cup, however, is hard rubber and not comfortable for a long time. The picture quality is good, but the Z7 is better. I could see more details in the Z7 (with 300mm f/4E + 1.4TC) than in the R (with 500mm f/4). When shooting in very low light and manual focus, the EVF amplified the light enough for me to get a pretty good hit rate just eyeballing it through the EVF.

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Night heron hunting at night in shallow lagoon.  Manual focus with flash.
Camera: Canon EOS R, Focal length: 500mm, Aperture: ƒ/5, Shutter speed: 1/125s, ISO: 1600, Taken: 2018-10-12 17:22:32, Flash fired: yes,
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White pelicans feeding at night.  Manual focus with flash.
Camera: Canon EOS R, Focal length: 500mm, Aperture: ƒ/6.3, Shutter speed: 1/125s, ISO: 1600, Taken: 2018-10-12 17:26:29, Flash fired: yes,

The Q menu system is pretty easy to use, and I used it every so often to change the crop factor (FULL to 1.6 and back). Sometimes I used it to change AF mode (tracking vs area vs expand). I’d like to be able to re-order the options to put the ones I use next to each other — I don’t know if that was available customization.

I left the M-Fn button to ISO. I tried using the slider bar for this, but the slider bar is poorly implemented, IMO. It’s too hard to activate (1s delay) or too easily activated (if always on) and it is hard to precisely set it.

If you use the M mode, there is no easy way to set exposure compensation. You have to use a Menu setting! Use the new Fv mode, it’s what you want.

I shot in both Full and 1.6x crop modes. In either mode, it fills the EVF making use very nice compared to a DSLR. 

Most of the time, I used a monopod.


I mostly used Servo with Continuous Low and AF + Tracking. I set the AF Lock-on to use the Single AF point. This draws a white box on the screen that you line up with the subject then half depress the shutter release. You can change the initial location of the tracking box with the “Index Display” button. I often had a hard time finding this button with my thumb, so I was a bit clumsy moving the box.

I used the Fine Detail picture setting. Although I shot Raw + JPEG, I could not process the raw files in Lightroom, as Adobe has not yet released an update for the camera.

After struggling with the M mode and lack of easy exposure compensation, I started using Fv mode. You use the rear dial to pick a setting (shutter, f-stop, EC, ISO) and the front dial to set it. So I leave it set on EC and then can adjust the EC easily with fixed SS, F-stop, and auto-ISO.

I mostly shot at 1/1250 – 1/1600 with f/5.6 and auto-ISO. 

I switched between IS mode 1 and mode 3 on the lens from time to time. I didn’t notice a big difference between them, but I was not specifically testing it.

Still Subjects

Overall it worked very well for this. I wish that in SERVO mode you could set a small single AF point, but it’s a kind of big box. That said, it usually hit focus.

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White-tailed Kite with Prey
Camera: Canon EOS R, Focal length: 500mm, Aperture: ƒ/4.5, Shutter speed: 1/1600s, ISO: 250, Taken: 2018-10-13 14:12:02,

Often, I would use tracking and set it over a perching bird waiting for it to take off. If I started tracking with a still subject, the tracking box usually got bigger and bigger and wandered off. Sometimes it would get smaller and lock in to the subject, but that was infrequently. 

I found the area AF selection and “expanding AF” selections often made poor selections. For example, shooting egrets in water, those modes would often select the reflected egret. In ONE SHOT mode, you can select a small single AF point, but that is not available in SERVO mode.

Moving Subjects

Like the Z7, I think the AF lock on is more miss than hit in trying to capture BIFs. If I happened to be more-or-less focused and the bird was reasonably large in the EVF, it could hit it. If the bird was a bit small or I was not more-or-less in focus to begin with, it often hunted.

When I was shooting Kites, I could get some good BIF shots because they hover and move slowly, so the AF system could lock on. Once it locked on, the tracking was OK (not great) for Kites.

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White-tailed Kite with Prey
Camera: Canon EOS R, Focal length: 500mm, Aperture: ƒ/4, Shutter speed: 1/1600s, ISO: 250, Taken: 2018-10-13 15:06:49,

I had one series of shots of an American Kestrel perched on a post and taking off. It hit the first still shot, and it hit the second spreading-the-wings and starting to move shot, but the next two of it actually in flight missed focus.

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American Kestrel taking off
Camera: Canon EOS R, Focal length: 500mm, Aperture: ƒ/5.6, Shutter speed: 1/1600s, ISO: 250, Taken: 2018-10-13 14:56:06,

I tried both the Continuous High and Continuous Low modes. High had a lower success rate than Low, but Low is very slow. About 2 fps.

I mostly shoot d500 and now d850. Both the Z7 and R are way behind in tracking and action shooting. The d500, for example, can shoot very rapidly and hit focus quite often.


I found the R easy to use once I started to master the menus and figure out how to reconfigure things and shoot in Fv mode. The tracking system is easier to use than the Z7, but I think the Z7 tracked better if I was able to actually activate it in time.

I do not think the R is ready for birds in flight. I’d wait for the next camera, which is supposed to be more of an action camera. I have the same conclusion for the Z7 too.