Saturday Evening Post: #32 “Let there be…”

Light.  (and as someone once said, You could see for Miles!!) 🙂

Had a day with BirdLife Werribee—formerly Werribee Wagtails—in the Gardens.  (Melbourne Royal Botanic no less).

At one of the entrance gates these rather formal lights, from a bygone era attrached our attention. So much so that the birdo in my was laid to oneside and the building and details photographist took over.

I was limited by a couple of things. Longish lens, so I had to move back, and lack of space to move back without getting some tree, bush or pole in the way.  I also really wanted the shapes to be established behind a shaded area to give the right contrast. In the end, I had to make the exposure through some branches that blew back and forth in the breeze. Never mind, managed in the end.

Did a little job with the Photoshop brush to enhance the brillance of those golden filagree, to balance the richness of the glowing globe.

As Freeman Patterson says of light, “It’s the resulting shapes, lines, textures and perspectives that you have to arrange in the picture space. Not the Light. Stay focused on the elements, once appropriately arranged, the resulting light will carry the story.”

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Moments: Sharing a Little Love

We don’t get many Little Lorikeets down around The Office area. But there are several pairs that seem to come and go on a regular basis, and I suspect they might always be in the area, just too high up to notice.

With reports of Purple-crowned Lorikeets in the general area, we wondered if they might be at The Office, so took Dolly on a bit of a traverse to see what we could find. Despite EE’s best attempts, we couldn’t spot, let alone hear them.  We were getting ready for the trek back out, when the “rattley rolling, squeaky” call came from a tree behind. And there was a pair of Little Lorikeets engaged in some preening and pairbonding alopreening.

I think the photos tell the story.

Enjoy

Saturday Evening Post #31 Evoking a Response

I had started on a journey for this post, through managing digital photos (digital assets—always important to use the right technical terms, so the masses know they are dealing with a well studied and knowledgable source.), but as it developed into a a bit of a rant, I thought something a little more lighthearted might be a better Evening Post.

Freeman Patterson once said, “A good photograph is one that clearly shows the character of the subject while revealing a little of the photographer’s response to it.”

Hard for us bird photographers sometimes and the bird is usually not the least concerned about allowing us any emotional response at a personal level, so we have to include that in other ways.
The placement in the frame, the isolation or inclusion of the surrounds, the pose of the creature, and the form, shape, tone and texture that we area able to achieve.

“If you think of a photograph in this way, you’ll find your personal direction, as a photographer emerging and becoming clearer”. And I’d add to that both to yourself, and those who view the photos.

“Coming to know yourself through interaction with someone or something is very satisfying.  In the end you get the picture, of both of you.”

Which somehow gets me on the beach with the light changing over a Pied Cormorant. A fairly tolerant bird at best, so its not to hard to work with them. But I’m on the wrong side with the light, the background is bland and the bird stoic if nothing else.

Risking putting the bird to air, I moved until the backdrop was at least neutral, and about the same time, a sliver of light came out, the bird turned and I pressed the shutter.

I often gain as much from just sitting or standing and watching the bird in its own world. Little character traits become obvious—here the foot folded up under the tummy. Other times it is just a matter of waiting until all the elements come together. I may make a photograph, or I may not, but the fact that I can observe, see, apply visual design and appreciate the bird’s life for its own sake, enables me to remain fully relaxed for the moment.

Australian Pied Cormorant, Phalacrocorax varius

White-winged Terns: Welcome Visitors

I have, it must be said, been hanging off making this post. I was hoping, somewhat against hope, the I’d get another day down at the WTP with these delightful birds, but sad to say, the season has changed, the birds are on the move, and the fickle weather has finally arrived with some decent rain for the hard stressed environment.

White-winged Terns, (used to be called White-winged Black Tern for obvious reasons), pay a visit to the south over the mid-of-summer through most of autumn. They feed  up on the rich supply of insects along the bunds and over the waters at the treatment plant. I suspect we see somewhere between 50-100 of them over the period.

The breeding birds also begin to colour up readying for their trip north.  They are not huge migrants, like say Red-necked Stints, but still their journey north will take them into South-East Asia, and as far as China and India. Hard to find definitive data. There is also a branch of the family that breeds as far up as northern Europe. I think they spend the summer around the Mediterranean.

We all, I suppose, have birds that intrigue us to one extent or another, and White-winged Terns are one of those birds for me.  I think mostly because of their consistent habit, and their lovely changeable plumage. Most seasons they seem to work in just a few ponds at the WTP, it changes a bit with the food source, but most times if they are locatable, and not on far-off ponds that have no access, they present a wonderful show of hunting close into the edges of the ponds and over the grass verges.  Making it easy to get closeups, if and I did say, if, I can keep them in the viewfinder.  Like all terns the flight path is not erratic, but certainly not predictable.

We have had several sessions with the birds, and rather than try and explain it all, the following shots should speak volumes for the beauty and delicate nature of these birds.
Hopefully it might also show just a little bit of my interest and enjoyment of their visit and how much I appreciate such a challenging subject.

Enjoy.

Part of a larger flock on the move. It shows the various moultings from almost white juveniles to near black-bodied adults.
Food off the water, or…
… In the air
They also are called, “Ear muff terns” by some folk because of the little black markings behind the eye
Easy to image how impressive they will be in full breeding moult

Till next year, travel well little birds, your visit was most appreciated.

Saturday Evening Post #30 “Whatchabeendoin”

Apologies: Sorry about late delivery, normally I prepare this early for upload, but had a couple of hectic days. Enjoy.

 

“Whatchabeendoin?”

A question that always came up among a group of photographers that I worked with.
We were an eclectic bunch.  A radiographer, a teacher and lecturer, a writer and creative, a wedding photographer, a specialist in commercial, with a leaning toward panoramic shots with a “Widelux” camera, a landscape photographer whose work with a Gandolfi Variant on 5×7 Inch set styles the digital workers are only beginning to achieve, and me, who around that time was working with a lab processing film for variety of sources, including “The Day in the Life of.. (Australia)” and Rick Smolan’s “Treks” for Nat Geo, the story of Robyn Davidsons’ camel trip across the Northern Territory and Western Australian deserts.

So after the usual answers, to “Whatchabeendoin?”, of:  “I did the Smith and Alexandar” wedding last week, to: “I’m in an underground carpark doing wide shots for an architect who is going to redevelop the area, to: “I’m doing a series of trees along the escarpment on the Western Arthurs”, we’d get down to what we were doing creatively.

Usually half a dozen so slides or prints were laid out and we’d discuss, creatively where the feel, or life, or experience of each of the shots was taking us as viewers.

One of the group was an Englishman who had worked in his youth as a photographer for a postcard company, he would travel about taking photos of various tourist attractions for postcard sales. Pubs were his speciality.  And interestingly enough, almost all his pub shots had one thing in common.  Potted geraniums in the foreground on the scene. He used to have in the back of the little Morris van, a selection of potted plants and would set them up out the front of the building, ‘for colour and added interest’.

He could do about 5-7 shots in a day.  And off course always talked to the landlord and shared a pint or two as he went.  By the end of the day he was well oiled.  “It is one of the reasons that we say, “Merry old England’, he would quip.

The Widelux guy and I ended up working together for a large multinational company, and once at the end of a conference, the obligatory ‘group photo’ was made.  They had hired a dude with a Widelux (an F7 to be precise), and this camera didn’t have a shutter, it had a rotating lens on a slit. And shot on a curved back with 120 roll film for a very long pano shot.  The exposure took several second as the lens rotated around the scene and the film (Bit like panos on hand fones today)
We reasoned that if we stood at one end of the group at the beginning of the exposure and then ran behind the group to the other end, and stood there, we’d be in the shot at both ends of the group. Great idea. We did.

But of course the person who ‘shouted louder and controlled the purse strings’ was not amused by our action, and we both ended up working in different part of the company sometime after that. “Childish and pathetic” were some of the less colourful words used.

The couple of years we worked together provided some of the best work, creatively and expressively that I think I ever did. The creative input, and the welcome feedback, not the ‘oh nice shot’, but— where is this going, how to I feel about it, and what is it saying, were all great guides that ended up keeping us alive to our work.

Time of course goes on, and we all moved by to other opportunities. However for quite a long time we’d occassionally get together for a meal, and the inevitable, “Whatchabeendoin?”

One particular day, I turned up with an iPad. (the original one), and a small folio of bird photos I was working on. It was one of the nesting season of Kestrels that I was following. Somewhere on the blog are shots and stories from those years.
We met in a restaurant near Vic Market, and after a few bottles of red, the ‘Whatchabeendoin” came up.

Andrew, the pub photographer above, latched on to the image shown here.  It was taken during the rain that broke the 7 year drought that season, about 4 days of constant rain.
The bird is Elizabeth as she waits in the mist for Mr Darcy to return with some breakfast. He had only been able to get out to hunt occasionally for several days, and spent most of his time trying to stay dry on the tree.
The nesting site was very close to end of the runway at Tullarmarine, and there was a constant stream of aircraft coming and going over the site.
All I had to do was line up the bird with an incoming and my image was made.
Andrew was taken with the red of the light and the isolation of the shape of the bird, and we talked about the shot for several minutes.
Then he said prosaically, “Y’know, you could have improved this!”,

Oh, saith I.

“Yes I think a few well-placed potted geraniums at the end of the runway would have “added that little extra colour and interest”.’
🙂

So I ask, “Whatchabeendoin?”

Moments: Whistling Kite does Takeaway

It’s beginning to look like I’m getting in a rut with raptors and food.
Mostly just a bit of a backlog of other work and the natural progression of things.

Interesting to be posting such work on the blog, as it fulfills a learning process I’m journeying on at the moment.
Exploring photography, my own work in particular, as an iterative process.  Or a journey of versions that lead to new discoveries.

That is: the repetition that builds on the previous shot. It is where the concept of ‘multi-burst’ and I diverge.  I need to  have thought out the changes, or the visual differences from shot to shot. Not just blaze away and pick out the ‘best looking one’, to tidy up in Photoshop.

Not, as I’m sure you can imagine a simple step by step process when it comes to birds that are unpredictable at best, and downright difficult to get to understand at the worst. Which I think is why ‘iterative’ is such a useful motif.

EE and I were at The Office.  The Red Gum picnic area to be specific. Its a short trip down for Dolly, and if all goes well, there can be an interesting array of birds on a good day.
We were sitting enjoying the Grey of Earl, and a snack, when a grey shadow moved over our heads and flew toward the large dead skeleton of a tree by the river’s edge.
“A Whistling Kite,” quoth she.

Then it became, as we moved nearer, that said Kite also had bought a snack too. It had found a discarded Shingleback Lizard carcass remains. Now, it might be that the Kite had made the kill, but the condition of the carcass suggested it more likely had retrieved it after it was abandoned. Most of the rich middle parts of the hapless creature were already gone.

So we sat and watched it play with its food, and all went well until a ‘murder of crows’ in the form of a group of ravens moved in to help the Kite.  They believed it seems, in ‘share and share alike’, so long as they got the goodies to share.
Our hero was having none of that and scooping up its meal, it departed to a more secure area.

Enjoy

 

Saturday Evening Post :29 “Salty”

Meet “Salty”.
I don’t know if that its real name, but an old sea dog deserves a distinguished name.

EE and I were at the Werribee South beach photographing Pelicans.  Hmm, there is a post somewhere back there about the adventure.

I turned round ‘seaward’, to see a bloke, and his kayak and his dog, paddling along the water’s edge. Salty had a front row seat on the kayak.

Not sure if I’m more impressed by Salty’s excitement about being on the sea, or the owner’s clever solution for holding the plastic bucket on top of the kayak.

Took me back to me childhood of messing about in boats on the mighty Murray River. Among some of our summer fun as growing lads was a small skiff which plied the river from dawn to dark, and carried home our catch for the day.  Sometimes it was a pirate ship, sometimes a mighty naval vessel, and sometimes it, just like us kids, ‘went exploring’.  And always in the company of one or two of the family dogs.
One particular dog, I’ve talked about here before. “Puppy, or Dog’, depending on who was talking, and what were the circumstance, was a Blue-Heeler cross Fox Terrier, with a snippet of whippet thrown in for good measure.

Like Salty, Dog would sit up in the bow, or sometimes hang off the stern fascinated by the rippling water passing by. So it was a little bit nostalgic for me to watch the delight and exuberance of Salty as they sailed by.

They returned an hour or so later, and I saw them disembark on the pier about 500m from where I was standing.  Salty, jumped onto the pier, a few quick shakes, and look around, it then trotted off the pier in search of new adventures.

I love to see dogs without collars and tags,—I’m an anarchist, or perhaps a iconoclast when it comes to having to id my ‘stuff’. I’m not against the registering of animals etc, just the need for them to carry such id as a sign of being ‘owned’ by some human type person. Dog was never owned, it shared its life with us, and in return we shared with it. She didn’t need a ‘tag’ to know she was part of our family. And for all those who have had such relationships, you know no-one can break that bond.

So sail on Salty, may the kayak take you on many an adventure, “yo, ho ho, it’s a pirates life for me!”

 

Moments: Brown Falcon—My Kitchen Rules, Tiger Snake, a la carte

YaJustHaddabeThere.

If you feel history is repeating itself, well done. It is.

Brown Falcon are very active at the Treatment Plant at the moment, as it seems are snakes in the close of the warm weather.
This bird didn’t fool me.  I knew it had intentions.  That it only moved one or two fence posts at a time was the first clue. When a vehicle drove down the road past EE and I, and then past Brown, and it didn’t even flinch, I knew.

YaJustHaddabeThere.

Settle in for a long wait. My first frame of the encounter was shot a 1:53pm.  The last one 2:42pm. And the bird was still in residence at that stage.
Here’s a summary and then we’ll let the images tell the story.
We noted the Falcon on the fence as we drove down. It was not in a hurry to move, and it was apparent that in spite of its seeming casualness,  it was hard at work. I’ve written before that I believe Browns map everything only move when its to their advantage.

It flew along the road, and then walked into the grass. At first I missed the movement. But Brown had calculated the snake would move out into the open. Ha!  Not this one. Brown reacted but the blanket weed is much too thick. Advantage Snake.

Brown considered a new plan from a small hillock nearby. And that is where there time went. Twenty minutes of more.  Then for no apparent reason the bird moved to a higher roadside sign. And I knew an attack was in play.

YaJustHaddabeThere.
It went down behind the small hillock, and we lost sight, but we lost no time in getting up the road to see if we could get a look.
Yes. There it was mantled, wings spread out. Motionless. At the right time, the head moved and it was all over.
The next few minutes were dealing with the death throes of the snake, and it eventually got a tail twisted over the Falcon’s wings.
After gorging itself it tried to move the snake out into the open, but for some reason, the snake had twisted itself into the grass.  Pretty much exhausted from all the effort, the bird took a break, then flew on to the roadside fence.  And sat.

After a few minutes it began to preen, and we decided to move on.
I collected the vehicle from down the road, and we drove by the fence, and normally a bird would take to the air.  Not this bird, it was either satisfied we meant no harm, exhausted, or just was not going to give up its ground for its meal.
YaJustHaddabeThere.

Which ever, EE got an eye to eye encounter as we went past about arms-length from the bird.

None of these are cropped as they show both the action, the closeness, and the area of the action. For those that are guessing, I think the

markings are a Tiger Snake.

YaJustHaddabeThere.

Enjoy.

Flying from post to post. A typical Brown Falcon Activity
Now its serious. The time and location are right.
Let’s see
Hey, look, its over here. At first I couldn’t see the snake through the grass, but its just in front of the bird.
Tricky little customer. It should have moved out into the open.
Not fair. Come back
Too hard to attack in the thick undergrowth.
I know its there. We’ll just wait.
Taking a height advantage the bird sat for nearly twenty minutes.
Then, relocated
And a few seconds later dropped.
We moved up the road to get a better view, hoping the bird would not be nervous and take off. I should not have been worried. Here it is mantled, wings out over the snake.
The snake has been despatched and its time to begin lunch
The size of the snake would have been around 1.5 metre and my guess from the markings its a Tiger Snake. The tail is starting to twirl over the bird.
In the death throes, the tail curled around the back of the Falcon.
Down to business. The bird tries to move the snake to a more open area, but its somehow caught among the grasses.
Here its trying to pull it out with its leg force.
That failed, so now its the pull forward with the beak and head, but it can’t get enough purchase to solve the problem.
After nearly an hour the bird is I think exhausted and took time out for a rest and to reevaluate its next move.
Across the road for a rest
Yep, I can still see it from here thanks.
We drove past the bird and this is looking back, a nice rotund tummy.

Snapshots: The Delight of Flight

Most of us see Pelicans sometimes inflight, sometimes fishing, sometimes just paddling about. We also find them out of the water, and their huge bellies, beaks and ungainly legs makes them look amusing to say the least.
Have to be careful in this day of Political Correctness, that I don’t infer that a large slow stepping creature is any less a wonderful and important member of the bird society and any avoid any reference to them as less than fulfilling their chosen goals and aspirations and dreams.

However all that aside, tis when they take to the air, that their great beauty and artistry in the air is instantly apparent.

EE and I had a lovely sunny afternoon with nothing special planned so took the opportunity to head down to Werribee South, and stop at Wyndham Harbour for a coffee and ponder the fish’n’chip shop next door, and wouldn’t it be a good idea to grab some and take down to the foreshore and watch the birds. But diets, being what they are, we simply passed by the shop without stopping, much, except to sniff the air and enjoy the aroma and ohh, and ahh at the plates of rich looking fare on the tables outside.  Oh Well!

There was not much happening at the Werribee River entrance either. Lots of fishing boats a’comin’n’goin’ Ho, yah ho, ho, ho.

Which meant the pelicans were ready to help the fishermen dispose of any scraps of fish that were being cleaned.

So we sat on the grass, me on a seat, and she on Dolly, and enjoyed the birds as they preened, argued and flew by.  Such masters of the air. Able to propel that huge body and large wings with such skill.

Enjoy. We did.

 

Saturday Evening Post #28 Brightening up the Grey Box Forest

For EE and I it was time for our annual pilgrimage across town  for an evening with friends.
As we pondered the going, there was a moment’s pause while we contemplated “It will be Thursday Evening before the Easter Holiday break, and by about 4:00pm the roads are going to clog up with holiday traffic and the RIng-road will be at a standstill, moan, moan, complain.”

Ah, says she, with a smile, and always full of bright ideas, why don’t we leave after lunch, take a picnic snack, and go early to visit Woodlands Historic Park and look for Robins, then we’ll only have a short drive to our evening destination.

We did, and arrived at the Werroona Carpark in plenty of time.  Then “Dolly” got ready for her maiden trip into the Bandicoot Hilton, also known locally as “The Backpaddock”.

Poor old Grey Box forest is showing the signs of no rain for several months.  Not such a big deal to the venerable Grey Box themselves, they are quite adept at surviving in hostile environments. But the understory, and particularly the moss beds that the Robins depend on over winter are simply dry dust.

As we walked down toward the Backpaddock gate, we mused about the lack of birds, and how in past seasons, there would have been Red-capped Robin activity visible from the roadway. At the height of the best seasons several years ago, we had 15-20 pair of Red-capped Robin territories mapped.  The pair we named “Lockey and Primrose” were always ready to pop out along the road near the cemetery to watch our progress past.  There are quite a few posts on the blog of our interaction with this gracious pair.

When I first started photographing out in the backpaddock, my friend Ray, who taught me so much about the area, and the birds out there, would often stop and chat with me inside the gate.  A male Red-capped Robin, would usually come by, sit on a branch nearby and listen to our conversations.
These days not one of those territories exists. In a strange turn of events since the introduction of the Eastern Bandicoot programme in the backpaddock, the number of Red-caps has been decimated. I’m not suggesting a link, just a co-incidence.

We walked the usual (old) kangaroo pads, through the forest, but did not see or hear any robin activity.  More walking, and then Dolly took a swerve off the path, and we headed into the forest proper. Dolly is not 4WD, so it was not going to be a long journey.  When just in front of me I saw a splash of red on a stump. Heart races, point camera, yes, indeed.
It’s a Flame Robin male.

We were able to work with him for about 20 minutes, hoping all the while that his clan would turn up, but as the light began to fade and our departure for the evening was closing in, it was time to go.

But, we did have a feel that there is life in the old Grey Box forest yet.

Enjoy

Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF: Report from the Field

Tis a well know fact that this blog does not do equipment reports. It’s not as though there aren’t enough opinionated sites to trash the best of hardware. However I’ve had a few enquiries regarding this lens, and rather than rehash what Uncle Google can find in a minute, I thought I’d rather share a few paras and pictures on my use with the lens so far.

If you own Canon gear, don’t proceed any further, you have the wonderful DO 400mm f/4.  Be happy!

I hummed and hahed when the lens was first released.  The big bikkies involved was probably the first stumbling block. And I was working with the Simga Sport 15-600mm f/6.3 and it was working well for me.(more to follow below)

But the low weight and small size were an attraction, and in the end, I placed an order with Ross at Camera Exchange in Box Hill, in October 2018. I also planned to trade the Sigma at that time.
Eventually, got a note from Ross. “It’s here!”. March 29 2019. The wait-time worldwide has been astounding. So I motored over to collect the lens. Thanks Ross.

What follows is where it fits with my current work.

Time for the Pixelpeepers to click away now, as there are no charts, no ranking scores, no graphs and definitely no lens test charts to pour over. No dudes riding bicycles, or shots of the building over the road, or some obscure mountain in the distance.
Just how does it work for me.
Also please remember that these are all JPEG images made out of Lightroom to 1600pixels at 90% Qaulity. A few are crops, some almost full frame. Shot on both D810 and D500.  I’ll note the data with each shot.

All the ratings are against My Expectations of the lens, coupled with use of previous lenses in the field. 100 % is just that. I’m completely happy with that aspect.

  1. Price: No % Score, but I’d have no hesitation in buying it.
    Gotta get that out of the way.
    It’s a pro piece of kit, Nikon are asking big bucks. If that doesn’t fit with your bankbalance, then click away now. For those who want to save some money, the Nikon 200-500, Sigma Sport 150-600, and the Sigma Contemporary are all good value for money, and sharp. Canon users have the DO 400mm or a pretty nice 100-400 f/5.6 Zoom and a neat 400mm f/5.6 without image stabilisation. Any one of those lenses would be a reason for me to change to the Canon System.
    My reasoning was to amortize the investment over the next 10 years or so, and a couple of bucks a week is a reasonable.
  2. Size: 100% Meets my expectations.
    It is about the same size as a 70-200 f/2.8. Which makes it imminently handhold-able.
  3. Weight: 100% Meets my expectations.
    Having been using the 300mm f/4 PF from its introduction, I had a definite idea about how the weight would be. I’m confident I could carry it all day in normal use without needing a porter.
  4. Handleability: 100% Meets my expectations.
    I’ve thrown around some big lenses in my time, but this one just feels right. The balance on the camera and handholding is very comfortable. Mr An Onymous will tell you I once fell in love with a 10-30mm zoom for the Nikon 1 system, just from picking it up off the benchtop. I ordered one the next day. If it feels right, the chi is working, and it is pointless to fight nature.
  5. Focus AF: Exceeds my expectations. This is such a fast lens to focus, especially on the D500. Sometimes I think it finds the subject before I get it sorted out in the frame. Big plus. And it locks and follows. If I compare it to the 300mm f/2.8 or the 70-200mm f/2.8, which are my go to ‘speedsters’ for action, then it’s right up there as good as, if not better.  I can’t compare it to the 400mm f/2.8 as I’ve never owned one, but that is the gold standard in fast focus.  I reckon this lens would give it a pretty good run.
    The other feature is like all pro lenses, its sharp all the way from the closest point to infinity. Unlike most consumer zooms that lose interest in focusing after about 30m. I’m looking at you 18-200mm and 80-400mm.
  6. Sharpness: 100% of my expectations.
    Just have a look at the photos below.  I don’t do comparisons, but looks equal to the 300mm f/2.8, and has more contrast than the 300mm PF.(My copy.  EE’s copy is a little better than mine I think).
  7. Unsharp fuzzy bits.
    My photos don’t have bokeh, (never pronounced so a Japanese would know what these people are talking about), mine have fuzzy out of focus bits.
    So against a smooth backdrop 100% of expectation. Milky smooth as it should be.
    Against busy high contrast backgrounds, 75% of expectation. But then my expectation wasn’t that high. Digital sensors are the real problem here. Most lenses struggle with those clunky blobby bits of branch and bush and the like.
  8. That Removable Foot. 100% meets my expectation.
    I’ve seen some remarkable nonsense written about the foot. It’s like “OH wow, something to complain about”.  If the only reason not to buy this lens is the foot, then my advice would be trade in the camera gear and buy a set of golf-clubs. It is the same foot used on the 70-200 f/2.8 zoom.  I’ve owned three of them over the years, and not once has it worked itself loose, and those lenses travelled lots photographing car events.  If the user is so clumsy as to loosen it off then forget to tighten it, I don’t see that as a feature fault, I see that as incompetence!
    For my hand the end of the foot rests nicely on the edge of palm of my hand, and my fingers sit well just before the lenshood, near the programmable buttons (coming up soon). A good fit for me. I’ve used it without, and my preference is with the foot.  I’ve also no intention of buying third party Arca mount foots.  I simply don’t intend to ever put it on a tripod again. (Coming up soon).
  9. Programmable Buttons. 95% meet expectations. I use these a lot. Just wish they were a little bigger so my finger doesn’t need to hunt for them.  They can be set for a specific distance and the lens will return to that spot. About 30% of my use. Or programmed out of the D810 and D500 menus to do a range of activities. Mine is usually an AF function about 70% of the time.
  10. Tripod use. Balances well with the D500 on a Wimberley.  If you can’t get it to balance on a Wimberley, then read the instructions. On the Markins Q20 that I use a lot, it’s a treat. But now, the problem is you have to take a lightweight lens, and sally forth into the field with a whacking great tripod. Don’t see the point.  End of discussion
  11. VR 100% of my expectations.  Image stabilisation is so much better implemented than on the 300mm f/4 PF. I found myself handholding at much slower speeds than I anticipated. See below. {edit} For Inflight, I usually turn VR off. I have a paranoia that the VR interferes with focus acquisition, and while it might only be a microsecond as the VR settles down, it just might be enough to move the focus from the eye, to a wingtip. Besides for inflight, (regardless of the lens I’m using), I want the fastest shutter speed I can get. Give me 1/8000 please.  No need for VR there.
  12. Lens Hood. Guess what!  100% meets expectations. It fits, it locks, it’s lightweight. And in my world. It goes on the lens, and is never removed. (except to clean the lens). I use a bag that fits the lens with the hood attached. (and its taped in position so doesn’t go wandering off on its own in the field.) That is the way all my lenses are fitted.
  13. What about Teleconverters. Met my expectations 100%, and perhaps exceeded them.
    The results with the TC 1.7, were what I expected. And I won’t be using it again with this lens any time soon, or later.
    Haven’t had a need to try the TC 2.0, but I know it will be slow to focus and that won’t work for me too well.
    With the TC 1.4 I found it needed some focus Fine Tune Adjustment.  Using the D500 in camera, it gave a result of -6.   When I tried it I found the focus position was just not right.  So I played around, and hit on +6. Can’t fault that.
    I often get asked about Teleconverters as if they will help get a pin sharp shot of a duck on the far side of the lake.
    Nope.
    Here are 3 helpful points for that sort of shot. 1/ Learn to Swim, 2/ Buy a kayak, 3 Develop better bush craft.
    TCs are best for giving a little bit of extra magnification closer up, say in the 15-30m range. After that for the birds I work with, both heat haze and tiny size make it impractical.
    Acquisition can be a bit ‘iffy’ in lower light.  And the tendency to hunt is always likely.  But it’s a solid performer once the focus is there. Side by side I doubt I could pick sharp, with and without the TC 1.4

Beginning to sound like a ‘fan boy’, so let’s see if some of this makes sense from my field experience.

This is the first image I made with the lens.
1/320 f5.6 ISO 400
Tai Chi Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Early morning overcast.
1/640 @ f/5/6 ISO 400
Superb Fairywren
Morning Sunshine, near full frame.
1/800 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Black Swan
1/500 @ f/5.6 Just a hint of sunshine coming through the trees.
Eastern Osprey
1/200 @ f/6.3 ISO 400
Eastern Yellow Robin
Late Evening Sunshine
1/2000 @ f/5.6 ISO 800
White-bellied Sea-eagle
1/200 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Tawny Frogmouth
1/400 @ f5.6 ISO 800
Hazy indirect light through overhanging trees
Eastern Spinebill

What about the soft out of focus bits

Late evening. 1/640 @f/5.6.
Creamy out of focus bits.
Juvenile Whiskered Tern
1/1600 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Very late afternoon rich light.
Brown Falcon.
Messy out of focus bits because of messy background
Brown Falcon, messy out of focus bits. This is mostly the result of sesor issues rather than the lens design.

How good is VR. I don’t shoot many in low light but here’s one from the back fence.

Checking VR or Image Stabilisation
1/50 @f/5.6 ISO 400. Handheld.
The sun had set, but there was still light in the sky.

Then off course the always asked question.

Oh, but what about Teleconverters. I’ve got to see it with Teleconverters.  See my point 13 above.

TC 1.4 700mm
1/3200 @f/9.0
Handheld. Bird worked its way toward me on the water line.
Red-kneed Dotterel
TC 1.4 700mm 1/500 @f/5.6 ISO 400
Soft out of focus bits and plenty of detail on WIllies beak whiskers.
TC 1.4 700mm 1/1250 @f/9.0
Handheld, overcast day. Lightened up 1/2 Stop in Lr.
TC 1.4 700mm 1/2500 @f/9.0
Full sun. It is no macro lens, but the detail is certainly there.

Accessories.
I was going to really annoy myself and write ‘accessorising’, but restrained. 🙂
I added a B+W UV filter. Not a great believer in UVs as the Sensor already has a UV component, but let’s face it, this an expensive piece of glass.  My first B+W UV was with the Sigma Sport, at first I was hesitant, now, I’m a convert. The B+W shows no visible image degredation, I wish I’d come across them years ago.
Added some Lenscoat to protect the lens, I really like the Kevin Kealty ones from the Wildlife Watching Supplies in the UK, they are a bit thicker and don’t seem to shrink like the US based mob.
Also work with a LensWrap, that I had for the 70-200mm, fits like a glove and gives added security for travelling. Simply velcros off when I’m ready to go in the field.

Conclusions.
I think the price is well justified for the work I am doing. It is indeed my go to lens at the moment.

Alternatives.
The Sigma 150-600 Sport worked well for me. In the end just to heavy for carry around field work. {edit} And, while it was very sharp, the focus was often a little to slow for me for inflight. Once acquired it stayed locked. Even using the Dock to set a faster focus acquire rate, it still left me wishing for a bit more speed.
The Nikon 200-500 Zoom. Is a sharp, well-balanced lens. I would have purchased it if the Sigma had not been on the showroom floor. I do find it a bit bulky to carry as the barrel is nearly twice the diameter of the 500m PF.
The 300mm f/4 PF and a TC 1.4 420mm @/f5.6  EE’s go to lens. Solid performer, I find mine with the TC has a little chromatic aberration in highlights, easy to fix in Lr, but detracts sharpness a little.  It is a lovely walk about for hours lens. Sharpness side by side with the 500mm PF would be hard to pick, and as I’ve used it for over three years, it’s a lens I have a high regard for.

Downsides.
Yes, there are a couple.
I tend to take a lot more pictures as it gives me a chance for good framing for inflight birds.
The lens makes my 300mm f/2.8 look a bit redundant. Not sure what I will do with that.
The 300mm f/4 PF is also going to take a back seat.  It sits in the lens cupboard and like a dog waiting to go “Walkies”, sort of quivers at me when I open the door.  Perhaps a D7200 or D7500 and use it for wider shots from the vehicle. Certainly can’t take both to the field.

And here are two more from a shot this morning.  The White-winged Terns are still around, and I spent the best part of 2 1/2 hours with them, one long session of about 90 minutes.

1/8000@/f5/6 ISO 800
Grab Shot. Got out of vehicle, lens grabbed focus, I framed next. Swamp Harriers do not give second chances.
1/2500 @f/5.6 ISO 400
I was working with these terns for about an hour and half, took several hundred frames. Lens didn’t feel tiring to hold. Had I not run out of time, and the birds out of patience, I could have easily done another hour or so, the lens is unbelievably easy to handhold.

 

So there you go. Thanks for taking the time to read to the end.
It is a keeper for me, and I’ll probably extend myself to get the best from it in the coming weeks.

Keep takin’ pictures we do.

(I’m hoping EE does not read this as I’d hate to have to wait another 5 months for the next lens.:-) )

Moments: A Hunting We will Go. Brown Falcon Style

In the best traditions of exclusive marketing, “Snapshots” has been renamed “Moments”.  Same great taste, same great ingredients, just a name that more closely realises the time with a bird(s).

EE and I have been missing our dose of Brown Falcon life for quite awhile.  Summer over, nesting behind them, tis time for Browns to come out and play again.  Gone are the wary, defensive secretive lives.  Now relaxed birds that don’t have a territory nor a growing family to defend.

We were looking along Ryan’s Swamp Rd at the WTP and found a bird sitting just off the road on a bund. Hunting.
Now Browns aren’t like other falcons, lots of flying about looking, here and there, looking busy.  Brown’s mostly contemplate. They are clever hunters that have their local territory ‘mapped’. Each flypast simply confirms, or adds to their already massive data bank.   A farm ute driving past on the roadway doesn’t even get a glance.  They know it’s not a threat.

We managed to get past the bird for some over-the-shoulder front light.
And then. Waited.  Browns do that a lot.
This one sat, then lifted off with one wing sweep, and landed on the far side of the bund emerging with a cricket or a beetle snack.
Next it swept across the road. Low down, Brown style.  Paused on a white fence post.  Then returned to our side of the road landing on a post to contemplate.
Another trip across the road, and more sitting.
A small sweep out to pickup another snack, and back on the white fence post.

Watching it is one thing. Working out the its stratergy something else again.
A dash off the post, a huge sweep up on to a branch and it sat.
Intruiged I walked over the road to get closer.
And it sat.

After a few minutes, it threw off the branch, dropped without a wing flap, straight down on to the ground on top of the bund on the far side of the fence.  Straight into some old grass and scrub. Luckily for me, there was an opening in the dried twigs and I managed to see it turn around with its latest meal. A snake.  Tiger I think. Your average Brown stands about 50cm so its fair to guess that the snake was at least that longer or a bit longer, perhaps 60-70cm (about 2 Foot in the old real measurement).

Satisfied all was safe, the bird went to work and before too long, turned, licked its beak (Well it can’t do that, but anthropomorphically speaking). Looked about and sailed back up into the tree to let the meal digest.

Bad career move!

The tree was inhabited by a small flock of WIllie Wagtail juveniles, all wanting to show their prowess and bravery.  So poor Brown was harassed mercilessly by the team of young guns. Each trying to be a little more enthusiastic than the others. In the end, Brown took the hint and moved on.

Sitting quietly by the side of the road. Taking it all in.
Just a hop and a step, and there’s a snack
It looks pretty detached, but its fair to conclude that nothing is getting past that steely gaze
A quick fly over the bund, just to see what the options or possibilites are.
From this perch, the bird no doubt had a good view of the snake, and kept returning here every 10 minutes or so.
A plan is hatched, just need to get the right attack position.
Dropping straight down under full control
On Target!
Look what I found.
And that is the last little bit.
Never underestimate your average Brown Falcon, but also never underestimate a determined Wagtail clan.

Saturday Evening Post: #27

We had the opportunity the other day to be in Williamstown, and as there had been several reports of Eastern Spinebill at the Botanic Gardens, we took it as too good an opporuntity not to go see.

Established in 1856 after a petition from the local residents, a 10 acre site was set aside and developed.  The formal garden layout was by Edward La Trobe Bateman who had also designed the Carlton Gardens. The Willamstown Gardens were opened in 1860, and as was fitting for the time, must have a extravagant gala event.
Today, the gardens have an elegance that belies their small size.

We managed a warm sunshine day, and as those who laboured through my Dean of Light blog sometime back will recall, I have been experimenting with old exposure techniques and manual settings.
Which as it worked, worked well for me when we found the Spinebills as they were on a salvia bush in the shade.
But there were small fingers of light coming through the tall trees on the Gardens border and making their way to highlight small areas of the foliage.
And that is where a Spinebill chose to hover.
I managed to be working on  mid tone for the bush and 2 1/2 stops from there is White (see I’m going to keep going back to Dean’s method), And that is just about where the bird’s face in the sun fell in the technical wizardry we call Exposure.

A little tweak in post to get the shadow area up and we could see the detail of those amazing hovering wings.
As the bird was busy extracting the nectar, its head/bill and body were stationary and so  slower shutter speed kept the wings in motion, while the body was sharp.

Enjoy

Snapshots: Dusky Woodswallow Morning

EE and I went to the Office a couple of mornings ago.

As we were walking over the river bridge we were discussing the small number of Dusky Woodswallows that had nested in the area.  And how they were now probably well on their way north.
When to our surprise, as much as anything, we heard the calls of them as hawked for insects in the sky overhead.
Like Choughs they are very community dependent, and its not unusual to see dozens of them sitting on the one branch all jostling for the best position. These are no exceptions. However with good grace the birds make room for one another, even if it means flying off and relanding.

They were still feeding young ones, so I concluded they must have had a late season nesting before the cold weather sets in.

Close, closer, closest
If you can’t get the spot you want, you go underneath and then popup on the other side. Everybody always moves up graciously
Incoming, make room
Woodswallows have the ability to both fly and glide like swallows.
They have a wonderful marking set on the wing edges, which is not always easy to see
Food is still in abundance.
Spent a few minutes with the patient bird, making portraits. While it talked constantly to its neighbours
Hard to guess, but this one is a juvenile, now looking like the adults
An adult turns up with a food topup