ARTICLE

"I wouldn't go out without my binoculars if I was taking photos"

TV presenter Chris Packham and his stepdaughter and fellow presenter Megan McCubbin discuss the Canon kit they always turn to when they're observing and photographing wildlife.
A black-and-white image of a cheetah walking in the shadow of a large tree.

BBC wildlife presenter and passionate conservationist Chris Packham has travelled the world observing and photographing nature – all on Canon kit. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 102mm, 1/2000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO400. © Chris Packham

Chris Packham's gift for communicating his passion for the natural world makes him one of the UK's best-known naturalists. A popular TV presenter since 1986, he's also a prolific author and photographer, as well as an active conservationist and campaigner.

Chris regularly presents nature programmes for channels including the BBC, National Geographic and Animal Planet. Among them are the BBC's Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch, which he co-hosts with his stepdaughter Megan McCubbin, a zoologist, conservationist and photographer.

In this exclusive interview, John Maurice, Canon Europe's European Product Marketing Manager, talks to Chris and Megan about their experiences of observing nature with binoculars, the Canon kit they use to capture wildlife images and why a company's ethics are so important.
A close-up of a large seal lying in the snow, a flipper pressed to its long face.

Megan is a keen user of Canon 10x32 IS binoculars and admits to being blown away by the Powered Image Stabilizer function, which enables a steady and therefore clear view of your subject when there is movement from yourself or the platform you are standing on. "I've recently spent a lot of time on boats, looking at dolphins and gannets, and it just goes such a long way in compensating for the movement of myself and the boat. It was pin-sharp all the time, which really helps when learning through your binoculars or trying to teach other people," she says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, 1/1250 sec, f/7.1 and ISO200. © Megan McCubbin

Canon 10x32 IS binoculars.

Like Megan, Chris also owns Canon 10x32 IS binoculars, which he keeps in his kitchen cupboard. It's a piece of kit he feels all wildlife lovers should have in their backpack. "Essentially, for a naturalist, it's difficult to live without them," he explains. "If you see things bigger, you see more detail, and that should allow you a better chance of identifying and enjoying watching what you're looking at."

John Maurice: I'd like to start by talking about your observations, because Canon is all about seeing something and then capturing it in an image. How do you look for and identify things in nature?

Chris Packham: It's a combination of context, where to look for something, and perceptual attributes in terms of being able to see and identify it. For a predator, the acquisition of a search image for particular prey is essential for its survival. I think naturalists do a different thing, but we do also develop our abilities and hone our senses to be able to find things. It's about looking in the right place at the right time for something, and being able to discern subtleties of its shape, form, movement and so forth in different aspects and weather conditions. It's those small details which allow you to identify things in microseconds. Occasionally, what you're seeing doesn't provide you with enough information to make a rapid diagnosis, and then you need to not just see it, but actually look at it. The looking implies the necessary study for a couple of seconds, and by then it's given away more clues as to what it is. You need a keen eye for detail and need to be looking at not just the bigger picture, but every single tiny part of it.
Do you own Canon kit?

Do you own Canon kit?

Register your kit to access free expert advice, equipment servicing, inspirational events and exclusive special offers with Canon Professional Services.
John: Binoculars are a key tool you use for identification. What magnification do you prefer?

Chris: There's always a balance between field of view and magnification, but I've used Canon's 10x32 IS binoculars since they first came out. They live in my kitchen cupboard because I've got a window nearby from which I look out onto my bird feeders. 10x is a good entry for people who don't know how good the image stabilisation is, because they'll be astonished if they try it. It's so good I've thought of increasing to a higher magnification to 12x or 14x, because the stabiliser makes those magnifications practical and hand-holdable.
Two images of a small bird viewed through Canon 12x32 IS binoculars. The left-hand image, without IS, appears blurred and low resolution due to shake. The right-hand image appears sharp due to the lack of motion blur.

The difference the IS makes when viewing wildlife is clearly visible. The image of the bird viewed when the Powered Image Stabilizer has not been activated (above left) is much blurrier than the image viewed with IS (above right).

A graphic showing a finger pressing the Powered Image Stabilizer button on the Canon 10x32 IS binoculars.

The Powered Image Stabilizer option on Canon's IS-equipped binoculars counteracts movement for steady handheld tracking and viewing.

John: Within the series you own, there's the 10x32 IS, 12x32 IS and 14x32 IS, and they're all the same size and weight – it's just the magnification that differs. A 10x pair of binoculars is about the equivalent of a 500mm lens. For things like birdwatching, people tend to use 8x up to 12x magnification. Meg, which binoculars are you using?

Megan McCubbin: I'm also using the Canon 10x32 IS binoculars. They're absolutely glued to me everywhere I go and even at home they're always within reach. They're the most comfortable binoculars I've used. I never realised how much I needed image stabilisation before I had them – it clears my mind so I can just focus on that detail I'm watching. Looking through those binoculars, I've seen things I wouldn't have otherwise seen.

John: There's a natural similarity between putting an Optical Image Stabilizer unit in binoculars and in our lenses – the optics shift, compensating for your movement. Without it, your eyes have to work really hard, especially when using high magnification binoculars, leading to eye fatigue and headaches if viewing over a long period of time.

Chris: For me, the other key thing about image stabilisation is the increased ability to identify things. There's no question, if you're looking at something at the extreme end, of its ability to be identified, specifically dots in the distance. As soon as you press the Image Stabilizer button, you can identify it. I think it buys you an extra bit of magnification because it allows the clarity of detail to appear as soon as you touch that button.
Two penguins stand one behind each other in the snow, giving the impression that the penguin at the front has four flippers.

"I like the arty, abstract kind of shots – things that make you question what you're looking at," says Megan of her photography. "There's no point in taking the same photo someone else has already taken. I like going in for details and trying to find something a little bit unusual perhaps." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, 1/1000 sec, f/9 and ISO200. © Megan McCubbin

John: The binoculars you're using at the moment are not as heavy as the all-weather and waterproof models, but they still have some degree of weather resistance. That's probably where a lot of people will find a nice balance.

Megan: It's that sweet spot, isn't it? Because carrying cameras and lenses, the weight easily adds up, especially in remote locations when you're doing a lot of walking and hiking. But equally you don't want to compromise too much on that quality.
John: When you're both out and about, looking at nature and identifying it, do you have a camera and binoculars with you?

Chris: I wouldn't go out without my binoculars if I was taking photos, because a lot of the time I need to find the subject first. So binoculars are the first stage, then I get on with the photography. However, it's very easy then to completely lose the experience, because you're concentrating so much on the picture that you lose the moment. For me, the minute the binoculars go down and the camera comes out, the game's changed. I equate binoculars to identification, observation and enjoyment. I equate the camera with getting the picture.

Megan: I think getting the photos is enjoyable, but it's a different kind of enjoyment. When you've got the camera out, you're focused on something entirely. You're thinking about composition, light, sharpness and so on. Whereas often I'll go out and deliberately leave my camera at home because as much as I enjoy taking photos, it's important to live in that moment.
Two male black grouses with blue, red and white markings fighting in the snow, one descending on the other from above.

The best cameras and lenses for wildlife photography

Bird photographer Markus Varesvuo and African wildlife specialist Marina Cano reveal their favourite kit for producing stunning images of the natural world.
A black-and-white image of sheets of ice in a frozen setting. Parts of the photograph are heavily cast in shadow.

As well as his favoured Canon 10x32 IS binoculars, Chris has also tried and been impressed with Canon's 10x42L IS WP. "They've stood up in all conditions," he says. "They've not been underwater but they've been very wet. They've also been to Antarctica and have been extremely cold." Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/13 and ISO200. © Chris Packham

A black-and-white close up of a small flower.

When out and about observing nature, Chris likes to put his Canon 10x32 IS binoculars through their paces. "They're not only for looking at big things a long way away – they're also for looking at little things which are close to you," he explains. "Very often we reverse our binoculars, using them as a powerful magnifying glass. Megs and I were looking at some plants the other day in this way." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 100mm, 1/1250 sec, f/2.8 and ISO200. © Chris Packham

John: Chris, you've recently started using the Canon EOS R5. How have you found the experience of using that camera?

Chris: My favourite camera in recent years has been the Canon EOS 5DS R, but I was loaned a Canon EOS R5 and was so enamoured that I bought one. I love it. It's a phenomenal leap forward. The first thing I did with it was take it out to the beach on a sunny day with my dogs. Photographing black dogs running fast on a contrasty sunny day is never a joyous task. I was using the tracking focus, which picks up the eye, and it was astonishing. I got more sharp photos of those dogs pummelling down the beach at me than I'd ever got before, in one afternoon.

To go with it, I bought the new lightweight Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM lens. When I put it on the EOS R5, it's a game changer, because I can carry that easily. That's my go-to lens now. I shoot everything on it because I really like shallow depth of field.

John: How about you, Meg?

Megan: I'm using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and my favourite lens is the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x. That lens lives on my camera. It's slightly heavier perhaps, but I willingly carry the weight because I love the effect it gives and the extra magnification. I like details in my images, but I want to get as close as I possibly can without disturbing an animal's behaviour.

Chris: I recently had a Canon EOS R converted to infrared. It's the best thing I've done for years photographically. It's a really good discipline to have and interesting to explore what infrared can do in different situations.

There's something critically important to us that we haven't touched on, and it's all to do with ethics. One of the key reasons we're very happy Canon users is because of Canon's ethical policies when it comes to things like trophy hunting, employment conditions, waste and minimising pollutants in the production chain.

Megan: I get asked a lot more questions now about the ethics of the optics brands I use, rather than the quality of them. How brands are functioning is becoming quite a hot topic in the wildlife sector.
A small badger in a forest stares inquisitively at the camera.

The Covid-19 pandemic, and the resulting worldwide lockdowns, have led to a renewed interest in local nature and wildlife according to Megan. "People have been sharing images more than ever before," she explains. "They might just be snaps out of the window, but they're seeing things they would have been too busy to see. The reason why I love photography so much is that you don't have to speak the same language as the person looking at the photo – it transcends boundaries. People have been connecting all over the world at a very lonely time… and that brings so much comfort." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens at 1/400 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1600. © Megan McCubbin

John: We've said before that we don't support any hunting activity and we never put up funds for sponsoring these events. Our brand team constantly looks at all the things we produce for cultural sensitivity but also environmental sensitivity.

Chris: It's all about change, isn't it? We have to constantly make those changes which are beneficial to ourselves and the environment. It comes down to education and it's up to people like Megs and myself to make sure we're flying that flag.

John: Conserving our natural environment ties into the observation and appreciation of nature and capturing it. Hopefully, doing that will encourage people to look after the environment and appreciate the value and beauty of it.

Megan: When they're starting out observing nature, people often feel they have to be able to identify everything they see, but sometimes it's just about the mental wellbeing that the natural world gives us. How we experience the biodiversity in our gardens, whether we're photographing it or looking at it through binoculars, adds so much richness to so many different people's lives.

Autor David Clark


Chris Packham's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Chris Packham in a forest with a Canon camera and lens. Photographer: Jo Charlesworth

Cameras

Canon EOS R5

Rethink what you know about mirrorless cameras. The EOS R5's uncompromising performance will revolutionise your photography and filmmaking. "I love it. It's a phenomenal leap forward," says Chris.

Canon EOS R

A full-frame 30.3MP sensor with impressive detail, ISO performance and Dual Pixel CMOS AF, the Canon EOS R offers the ultimate shooting experience to take your storytelling further. Chris says: "I recently had a Canon EOS R converted to infrared and it's the best thing I've done for years photographically."

Canon EOS 5DS R

Designed to deliver the ultimate in DSLR image quality, with 50.6MP resolution and a low-pass cancellation filter that maximises the sharpness of the camera's sensor. "Still my favourite camera," says Chris.

Lenses

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

This versatile lens gives great results in portrait work and handheld movie-making, thanks to its ability to achieve a shallow depth of field with beautiful bokeh, along with built-in Hybrid Image Stabilization and lightweight design.

Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM

A super lightweight lens delivering outstanding image quality and a polished professional performance – perfect for professional wildlife, sports and news photographers. Chris says: "My go-to lens now. I shoot everything on it because I really like shallow depth of field."

Accessories

Canon 10x32 IS

With Canon precision optics and a Powered Image Stabilizer to counteract movement, these premium 10x binoculars deliver superbly bright handheld detail for easy and comfortable subject identification. "I've used Canon's 10x32 IS binoculars since they first came out," says Chris. "10x is a good entry for people who don't know how good the image stabilisation is, because they'll be astonished. It's so good I've thought of increasing to a higher magnification."

Canon 10x42L IS WP

These premium waterproof binoculars can withstand the harshest conditions, with weather sealing to Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS7). Enjoy a super steady handheld view plus easy identification and tracking of birds at high magnification – even in flight – thanks to Canon's optical Image Stabilizer (IS), which precisely corrects for many types of movement and shake.

Related Articles

  • One king penguin stands tall and sharp amid a blurred colony of other penguins. The penguin has a white chest, grey neck and sides, golden cheeks, beak and front of the neck, and a black face.

    ARTICLE

    "I'll never get the perfect picture"

    Wildlife photographer and TV presenter Chris Packham shares his unique eye for composition, the demands he makes of himself and his kit.

  • A large owl is captured in flight, wings outstretched, against a forest backdrop.

    ARTICLE

    When the magic happens: photographing owls at twilight

    Bird photographer Jonas Classon reveals the techniques behind his award-winning photos of owls and other nocturnal animals.

  • A Canon PIXMA PRO-200 prints out an image of an orangutan swinging upside down from a branch.

    ARTICLE

    "Print is the best way to spread the message"

    Wildlife photographer Maxime Aliaga wants to save the orangutan – discover how his spectacular prints are helping to promote conservation.

  • An underwater image of a cluster of dark yellow coral.

    ARTICLE

    Seeing in the dark with the Canon ME20F-SH and EOS R5

    How underwater specialist DoP Peter Zuccarini was able to film in pitch-black conditions with Canon's speciality low-light video camera.

  • Get the newsletter

    Click here to get inspiring stories and exciting news from Canon Europe Pro