ARTICLE

Can the Canon EOS R3 keep up with the tiny and lightning-fast Kentish plover?

Italian wildlife photographer Bruno D'Amicis puts the EOS R3 to the test, photographing a rare and incredibly fast-moving bird on the beaches of Abruzzo.
A Kentish plover running across a beach, backlit to highlight the grains of sand kicked up by its feet.

Wildlife photographer Bruno D'Amicis had always envisaged his perfect shot of the Kentish plover: backlit to highlight the grains of sand it kicks up as it races across the dunes. "Having the chance to use the EOS R3 with its superb Eye AF tracking and 30fps electronic shutter together with the lightweight RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens allowed me to not only take the image I had envisioned, but dozens of perfectly exposed, in-focus and sharp frames," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/2700 sec, f/4.5 and ISO640. © Bruno D'Amicis

On the sandy Adriatic shores of the Abruzzo region in Italy, a 40g bird small enough to fit in the palm of your hand darts at lightning pace between beachgoers. The Kentish plover is a familiar sight for locals, but what many might not know is just how quickly its numbers are declining. Unchecked urban development, together with a relentless exploitation of sand beaches for tourism, have significantly impacted the shorebird's natural habitat, threatening its nesting sites. Renowned wildlife photographer and passionate ornithologist Bruno D'Amicis aims to change that, equipped with the Canon EOS R3 and a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens.

The Canon Ambassador is well known for documenting endangered species in his native Italy with his Canon EOS-1D X Mark III – from wildcats and Orsini's vipers to griffon vultures. He believes photography can play a crucial role in raising awareness, serving as a common language that can draw attention to the plight of the natural world, as well as those making efforts to preserve it.
A Kentish plover on a beach in the foreground, with beachgoers out of focus in the background.

An adult Kentish plover close to beachgoers in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens and a Canon Extender RF 2x at 1200mm, 1/4000 sec, f/8 and ISO1000. © Bruno D'Amicis

Moved by the compassion of dozens of volunteers at the Salva Fratino project, coordinated by WWF together with the Area Marina Protetta Torre del Cerrano and the Riserva del Borsacchio, who are monitoring and protecting this species, Bruno was determined to bring the story to light. It's a task easier said than done, though. These diminutive birds are shy and move with incredible and unpredictable speed. Even with high-end DSLR equipment the challenge is immense.

"I'd always dreamt of the perfect backlit picture showing the sand grains raised by the bird's feet," says Bruno. "But the animals outperformed the AF, or the composition was not satisfying."
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Thankfully, this time Bruno was armed with the latest generation features of the Canon EOS R3, including 30fps continuous shooting, advanced AF modes, an improved EVF experience and in-body image stabilisation (IBIS).
A Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens attached resting on a piece of driftwood on a sandy beach.

Dream pairing: the Canon EOS R3 and Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens ready to go. © Bruno D'Amicis

A woman kneels on a beach to place a green plastic cage around a bird's nest.

Marina De Ascentiis, a volunteer for the Salva Fratino Project, places a small plastic cage over a Kentish plover nest to protect it from predators, such as crows and dogs. "Thanks to the EOS R3's bright vari-angle LCD touchscreen, I could take some low-perspective pictures of the action by holding the camera with stretched arms without having to lie close to the nest," says Bruno. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/320 sec, f/11 and ISO200. © Bruno D'Amicis

Preparing for the shoot

Bruno obtained permission to photograph the protected species through the WWF, who assisted him on preliminary site visits to determine the most suitable nesting site for the shoot. These visits also gave Bruno an idea of the birds' behaviour and an opportunity to observe and document the wider conservation work.

On the day of the shoot, Bruno, kitted out in camouflage, crawled like a marine to a safe distance from the nests and settled belly-down, the weather-sealed camera and lens at sand level to convey the perspective of the nimble shorebirds. Once the light was right, the backlit shot he dreamt of would be possible.
A Kentish plover chick runs across the sand.

"Handholding a 1200mm lens at f/8, I was amazed to see how well the IS and the AF of the EOS R3 performed when tracking the fast-running chicks," says Bruno. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens and a Canon Extender RF 2x at 1200mm, 1/800 sec, f/8 and ISO4000. © Bruno D'Amicis

With such skittish and erratic subjects, Bruno needed to be patient and unobtrusive to get close enough to the birds without disturbing them. "Kentish plover chicks are extremely small and very fast, and their parents often keep them safely away from humans. In order to keep my distance and take pictures without interfering with them, I used a Canon Extender RF 2x mounted behind the Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens," he explains.

A tripod would not have worked here. With a fixed camera point it would have been impossible to keep track of the subjects as they darted across and out of frame. For flexibility and ease of movement, the only option was to shoot handheld, relying on the image stabilisation in the EOS R3 and his lens for steady, blur-free shots.
A Kentish plover in evening light flying above a breaking wave.

"The EOS R3's autofocus performed amazingly well in the dim twilight," says Bruno. "Combined with the camera's high ISO capabilities, it allowed me to get some good pictures of the fast-moving plovers flying against the crashing waves." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/2700 sec, f/5 and ISO3200. © Bruno D'Amicis

The camera in the hand

Although smaller and lighter than many DSLRs, the EOS R3's weather-sealed magnesium alloy body provides high impact resistance and durability, making it just as tough as Bruno's previous camera, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III. "The EOS R3 is a perfect size and grip, with great battery life," he says. "Ergonomically, it reminded me of my Canon EOS 3 analogue camera. For me, that extra sturdiness makes it the ideal camera – even over my Canon EOS R5."

Even at a distance from the birds, it was crucial to make as little noise as possible and to stay very still. "I've taken shots before using a mechanical shutter, and the birds jump up at the sharp noise. The silent electronic shutter in the EOS R3 was crucial for getting the shots I hoped for," Bruno says.

The EVF, which applies your exposure settings to preview exactly how shots will turn out, also helped Bruno to remain completely still. "Even small movements, such as lowering the camera to check an image on the rear LCD screen, can be enough to scare the birds," he explains. Thanks to these features, Bruno was able to get just three metres away from his subjects without startling them.

The EOS R3's EVF also proved to be a revelation for panning movements and in low light. "It's so fast in frequency and so incredibly bright that it's almost indistinguishable from an optical viewfinder," says Bruno. "There's no lag, even in really low light. It didn't feel like I was working with a mirrorless camera."
A Kentish plover flying over a sandy beach in golden light, with the sea in the background.

A combination of animal AF with a priority for birds and the Flexi Zone AF with customisable AF area size and shape made it possible to capture sharp shots of tiny, fast-moving subjects such as Kentish plovers. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/3200 sec, f/4.5 and ISO640. © Bruno D'Amicis

The EOS R3 in action

Positioning the EOS R3 at sand level to achieve the same perspective as the birds was a real test of the camera's capabilities. "These birds are very small and extremely fast, and they quickly disappear among the sand ripples, providing a real challenge for the photographer who has to lie on the beach and handhold both a camera and a large super-telephoto lens," says Bruno.

The EOS R3 features Animal AF which includes an algorithm specially to recognise and track birds, and this can be paired with a new Flexi Zone AF which enables you to adjust the size and shape of the autofocus area. This flexibility is particularly useful for small subjects such as the Kentish plover. "Once the Animal AF is locked, nothing gets in the way. Dunes, vegetation – I never lost the subject," says Bruno.
Bruno also found the EOS R3's AF suggestion feature particularly useful, especially when numerous birds were in shot. When using Animal Eye AF, a blue box appears around the eye in focus, while secondary grey boxes appear around any other eyes the camera detects in frame. "With just a touch I could quickly switch focus," he says. "If I had any lack of confidence in one focal point, the camera would suggest another."

As well as the additional AF flexibility and accuracy, the EOS R3's RF Mount also has a 12-pin connection that provides more communication speed and bandwidth between the camera and the Dual Power Focus Drive of the Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens, delivering even greater focusing performance. "I was amazed by how quickly the EOS R3 focused on and tracked the birds," says Bruno.
A red rally car captured at speed, kicking up a cloud of dust behind it.

Going off-road with EOS R3

Motorsports photographer Vladimir Rys tries out the EOS R3's groundbreaking racing car tracking AF on his first electric rally car shoot.
The EOS R3 features a mechanical shutter which can perform at up to 1/8000 sec. Using the electronic shutter only, this can be extended up to a lightning-fast 1/64000 sec, ensuring you’ll never miss even the fastest moving animals, people and objects. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/5 and ISO1600. © Bruno D'Amicis

The EOS R3 features a mechanical shutter which can perform at up to 1/8000 sec. Using the electronic shutter only, this can be extended up to a lightning-fast 1/64000 sec, ensuring you’ll never miss even the fastest moving animals, people and objects. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/5 and ISO1600. © Bruno D'Amicis

Capturing the dream shot

The greatest test was Bruno's dream shot. Would the birds outperform his kit this time around? Having observed the Kentish plovers' behaviour all day, honing his technique to capture the split-second action, Bruno was ready. And, when the moment came, the speed of the bird was matched by the 30fps electronic shutter of the EOS R3. "Thanks to the fast shutter and the incredible AF of the EOS R3, I could focus on composition rather than technique," says Bruno. "I was blown away when I finally captured the magic moment – a male came directly towards me in wonderful sunset light, with the sand glittering all around it."

The ability to focus in light as low as -7.5 EV meant the EOS R3 was perfect for taking shots of the chicks late in the day, when most beachgoers had left. Bruno again used the Canon Extender RF 2x with the Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens to effectively create a 1200mm f/8 lens – a real test of focusing power and accuracy in low light.

"I was amazed to see how well the image stabilisation and the AF of the EOS R3 performed in tracking the running chicks despite the low light conditions," he says. "The images at ISO6400 were super sharp."

All of Bruno's images were shot handheld, and the improved IS of up to 5.5 stops made for consistently blur-free images – and even steady video clips. "I took around 12,000 pictures on the day, and they were nearly all sharp. This gave me a nice problem: just so many images to choose from."

Many locals have an affection for the Kentish plover, and Bruno believes it can be a great ambassador for these threatened shoreline habitats. Working with local conservation groups, he is piecing together a book about the impact of human behaviour on the region's wildlife, and plans to exhibit his work on these scenic shores.

Written by Tim Coleman


Bruno D'Amicis' kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Bruno D'Amicis' kitbag containing Canon cameras and lenses.

Cameras

Canon EOS R3

A high-performance, high-speed full frame mirrorless camera, marking a new era for sports, wildlife and news photographers. "I was amazed by how quickly the EOS R3 focused on and tracked the birds," says Bruno.

Canon EOS R5

Rethink what you know about mirrorless cameras. The EOS R5 boasts uncompromising performance that will revolutionise your photography and filmmaking.

Lenses

Accessories

Canon Extender RF 2x

Extend your reach even further with a 2x extender designed specifically for the RF lens system, maintaining image quality and high-speed communication between camera and lens.

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