My Week, does the snow finally go?
It’s a beautiful day as the sun is coming up, it will be the nicest day since November. Okay, but where should I go?
I went to Aman Park yesterday, and slugged my way through a foot of wet, slushy, slippery snow, and on top of that, Sand Creek was over its banks, cutting some of the trails off to walking. I could go to Palmer Park, but it will be much the same, with Buck creek over its banks. I could go to Ionia, but the bridge over Sessions Creek washed away a couple of years ago. Normally, you can cross by walking on rocks to cross the creek, but that won’t be possible during spring run-off.
I could go to several parks along Lake Michigan, but there’s even more snow left there than there is here, and I’ve had enough of snow, thank you very much!
Unless another place comes to mind as I type this morning, I’m going to stay home today, despite the wonderful weather. That way, I can come home for lunch, refill my water supply, and besides, I do alright on birds and other nature related photos right here. I’ll also be able to shed some clothes, as it is quite frosty right now, but with the high for the day forecast to be well into the fifties.
I was not able to track down the large prints that I ordered, unless who ever received them by mistake returns them to the postman, they may be gone forever, darn.
Okay, the big news. Yesterday at Aman Park, I was finally able to really test out the new 300 mm prime lens using it with the Tamron extender. Close up, I can’t see much, if any, drop off in the quality of the images that combination produces from just the lens alone.
But, when shooting at longer distances, I found that the auto-focus wasn’t very accurate, and I had to trash about four out of five of the photos because they weren’t as sharp as I would like them to be.
Of course I would like every photo to be perfect, but the softness that I saw in my photos from yesterday doesn’t concern me too much, for many reasons.
One, the photos were soft, but they were usable if they had been of a new or rare species of bird.
Two, the soft photos were shot at about the limit of the range of the lens/extender combination, normally, I would get closer to my subject if possible. I plan to use the new lens and extender on long hikes in the woods, and most of the time, I get very close to my subjects then, so the softness I see in photos shot at longer distances shouldn’t be as much of a problem.
Three, the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) will still be my go to lens for serious birding. When I go in search of birds, it will be hard to do, but I’ll leave the 300 mm prime lens at home or in my car, and use the Beast, which seldom fails. The extra 100 mm of focal length, along with its very fast and accurate auto-focusing makes it my birding lens.
Four, both of my longer lenses, the Beast and the 70-200 mm L series lens showed marked improvement in the accuracy of auto-focusing as I used them more, especially the L series lens. If I would have gone by the photos that the L series lens produced the first few times that I used it, I would have returned it. In fact, I did return the first 70-200 mm lens I purchased, as I couldn’t get a sharp photo with it. The one that I have now was only marginally better at first, but the more I used it, the better it performed.
I have several ideas why that may be, but I won’t bore you with all of them, just my best hunch. I think that Canon builds their lenses very well, and that the focusing mechanism may be “tight” as the lenses leave the factory. As you use a lens for a while, the focusing mechanism loosens up a little, which allows the lens to auto-focus better. Like I say, that’s only a hunch.
Well, I’m burning daylight sitting here typing, and I’d rather be outside soaking up this glorious weather, so I’m out of here!
It’s just past 9 PM as I sit down to work on this. Other than about an hour for lunch, I was outside from 9 AM to almost 7 PM.
Okay, the new 300 mm prime lens is super sharp close up….
..and it does great on flying birds….
…but on small to medium birds sitting still, not so great!
Unless they are really close.
Before I forget, the nuthatch was chattering away quietly to himself, it was pretty cool to listen to him!
So, my morning was spent with just the 300 mm prime lens with the extender, shooting bad photos of birds. When I came home for lunch, I saw how bad the photos were, so I switched to the Beast, and brought the tripod, and two short lenses with me.
I did a lot of playing with the macro lens, the photos all came out well, but the subjects weren’t that interesting for the most part. Here’s the few I think are worth posting.
I shot this gorgeous sycamore tree with my 15-85 mm lens.
The birds were all taking their siestas for most of the afternoon, although I did catch Bertha cruising by.
And, a flock of sandhill cranes.
As the afternoon waned into evening, a flock of cedar waxwings descended on the berry bushes that still had berries on them.
How do you top a great photo of a waxwing?
You get two waxwings having a conversation!
It was such a wonderful day, I’m truly sorry that it had to end. I know that I’ll be feeling carrying all my gear around all afternoon, even if I didn’t cover much ground. Tomorrow morning may even be nicer, so I’ll call it good for now so that I can get some sleep and be up earlier to enjoy it.
All that time out in the fresh air yesterday must have worn me out. Even though I went to bed early, I slept in a little this morning.
There’s no snow in the forecast for the entire week, so maybe next weekend I’ll be able to get around in a place other than the park here. I say that even though I had a great day yesterday, playing with my macro gear for the first time without risking frostbitten fingers.
As much as I would like to take the Beast with me today in this nice weather, I’m going to take the new prime lens and extender, and learn how to make them work together for birds. You may think that the cardinal photo from yesterday is a good photo, it looks OK in this post, but full size, it looks like crap, and that was one of the best photos from the day with the new lens, as far as perched birds.
I have to learn how to make that lens work better for photos of perched birds. It is everything that I had hoped for, and more, as far as being lighter, easy to carry, and most of all, its performance up close and for flying birds. But, for songbirds more than about twenty feet from me, it sucks. Sorry, there’s no better way to put it.
Yesterday, with too much time on my hands, I played with the Beast shooting photos of birds hiding from me, and the Beast is incredible! In some of the photos, you can barely see the bird, but I was able to accurately auto-focus on the bird, and get sharp photos. Here’s the most extreme example.
I know that I can’t expect that kind of performance from every lens, but it would be nice if the new prime lens could auto-focus on perched birds out in the open.
And by the way, I know that I’ve said this before, but the Beast is an excellent lens for birding! I can’t imagine a better lens as far as being able to capture the little buggers as they try their best to hide from me. The Beast may not be as sharp as the new prime lens is when the prime lens functions well, but the Beast turns out excellent photos, and most importantly, does so with a very high success rate. For days like yesterday when I was shooting the waxwings, it was a matter of choosing the best of a very good lot, and not finding one or two that came out well.
Anyway, time for breakfast, and then seeing if I can make the new lens work better.
I’m back, and I think that I am on to something as far as getting good photos with the new lens of songbirds.
I’ll get to the how in a second, but first, that junco was in the same tree as a cardinal, and they were both singing away as if competing with each other, which they weren’t. But, that reminds me to tell you how great it is to hear birds singing everywhere again, and they’re just getting started!
Anyway, here’s the cardinal, the first shot wasn’t ruined by the new lens, a gust of wind did it.
Even though it’s fuzzy because of motion, I liked the way his crest is being blown by the wind. Here’s a better photo as far as sharpness.
Okay, so how did I make the new 300 mm prime lens start performing better? I took advantage of two features of my camera, full-time manual focus and/or the servo mode of auto-focusing.
I use the hybrid auto-focus mode of my camera, it works as one shot auto-focusing unless the camera detects motion, then it switches automatically to the servo mode.
So, I would get a bird in the frame, let the auto-focus lock, it was off a little 95% of the time, then tweak the focus manually, which allowed me to get good sharp photos most of the time I did that. Quite a few times, the original focus lock was off by so much that as I tried to tweak the focus, the camera read my attempts as motion, and switched itself to servo mode, which worked well the majority of the time. My “keeper” rate today was very high as far as sharpness. I shot any small bird at a medium distance that I could find, even if I knew that the photo wouldn’t be usable due to lighting or some other factor.
Of course I would rather that the lens auto-focus itself correctly, but I’ll live with have to help it out at times because that lens is so great at these photos.
I almost forgot, Fred the friendly fox squirrel assisted me in trying out my new technique for the new lens by posing nicely for me again.
So, I have to send Fred a big THANK YOU! for helping me out today. He’s a card, he’ll let me get so close to him that he fills the frame of the camera, but I stayed back some distance today and cropped the photos instead as part of my testing. Fred doesn’t like dogs though, so he stays out of sight as the dog walkers go through the park. 😉
Anyway, that’s all I have time for, I visit my mom on Mondays.
Where should I start? The weather? Cloudy, breezy, and cool, after some overnight rain. The month of March averaged almost 10 degrees below average, and we’ve been below average for 70 of the last 90 days. Funny, I don’t remember twenty days of average or above temperatures, but I suppose three or four days each month for three months does add up.
The forecast for the rest of the week is cool, with a little light rain on most days. But, Sunday is looking good right now, if that forecast holds, I’m going to go on one of my lakeshore extravaganzas!
Anyway, my large prints showed up yesterday, and all I can say is wow! At 11 X 17 they are still as sharp as a tack, and I don’t know if the printing was better, or if it is because of the larger size, but even more details are visible in this batch, even though they are duplicates of prints I had made earlier at 8 X 10.
It is quite understandable that the landscape photos are as good as they are, landscapes lend themselves to being blown up to large sizes, but even the photo of a horned grebe that I shot using the Beast with the Tamron extender behind it is crystal clear and sharp! I wish that I were rich and could afford to go even larger with half a dozen of my photos, just to see how well that they look. What I’d really like to do is have large canvas prints made, but I’d have to hit the lottery for that to happen.
A thought crossed my mind last night as I was drifting off to sleep, it’s no wonder that I have to fool around with the new prime lens, it is one of Canon’s professional L series lenses, and as I’ve said before, I think that when it comes to professional grade in photo equipment, that’s code for you have to fiddle with it to make it work. 😉
Time for breakfast and a walk.
I’m back, it was a rather slow day for photography. It started out rather gloomy, we had a few minutes of sun, then the clouds returned. The big thing though was the wind. I would complain about it, but since it is 20 degrees warmer than last week at this time, with about the same wind, I would rate today’s gusts as an inconvenience. It did keep the birds back in the thickest thickets, even the chickadees were grounded by the wind.
I did do something silly though, I forgot the carrying pouch for the Tamron extender. As dark as it was outside for most of the day, I should have removed the extender and gone with just the 300 mm prime lens, but then, this photo wouldn’t be as good as it is.
As I was trying to get a clearer shot of the squirrel, the sun disappeared behind the clouds again for the next two.
And then, he was gone, as they usually are. They don’t sit still very often, so I was lucky to get the photos I did. But, you can see how the sun lights up the red of the red squirrel’s tail and back.
I was glad that I had the extender on the lens for this one.
If only I could make the new lens and extender work like that all the time! I shot a number of photos of the vulture, the rest aren’t bad, but they can’t match that one, which wasn’t cropped by the way. I also shot a few other birds, and they aren’t worth posting either. The low light did me in today.
I have to say a little about the Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter or extender, which ever you prefer to call it. When I first purchased it, I remember talking about how well it communicated with my lenses and camera bodies, passing the correct information back and forth. But, I don’t think that I said anything about the optics. They must be excellent judging by the photos that I am able to get when using it. I bought the Tamron to use with the Tokina macro lens to extend that lens’ range, because it was half the price of the Canon 1.4 X extender. It was money well spent, as the Tamron performs very well behind the Tokina lens, the Beast, and now the 300 mm prime lens. The only lens it doesn’t work extremely well with is the 70-200 mm lens, but that lens is even more finicky than the new 300 mm prime lens is.
Frosty, but sunny this morning, it’s going to be a great day! Maybe the last one for a spell, until Sunday. At least I hope that Sunday will be as nice as they are forecasting, it’s looking to be a repeat of this past Sunday.
The wind yesterday may have felt cold, but it did have one good side, it helped to melt more of the snow piles that were left. Large piles of snow create their own micro-climate of cold, moist air surrounding and insulating them, which limits how quickly they melt. The wind blasts that micro-climate away, allow warmer, drier air to come in contact with the snow, causing it to melt and evaporate faster than they would without the wind.
So, science lesson out of the way, it’s time to discuss my upcoming weekend. Saturday is looking cold and possibly wet, so I’ll probably stay home and walk around here. The trail to the west of the street that I live on is finally losing the snow cover, so I’ll be able to walk it, along with going to the park as I have been doing.
If it is sunny on Sunday, I’m going to go to Grand Haven to look for ducks and other waterfowl, then work my way north along the Lake Michigan shoreline to Muskegon. With the spring migration getting going, it’s hard telling what I’ll find. That will be a series of short walks at each location, and I’m planning on spending the entire day over there. Maybe I’ll luck out and find a flock of eagles fishing a small patch of open water somewhere in my travels. But then, I’ll be torn over which lens to use, the Beast or the new 300 mm prime, I know, I’ll alternate, and try them both!
My alternate plan is to go to the ledges of Grand Ledge, but it’s still a bit early in the season for that place.
But, that’s Sunday, for today, I’ll be using the new 300 mm prime lens, and learning to use it. Time to get moving!
With some magnificent weather, a few old friends that have been around all winter, and some friends just returning from their winter long vacation down south, I shot almost 200 photos today. Many were of birds in flight, as I was testing the new lens. So far, I’ve shot most flying birds in IS mode 2, which is meant for action photos. But, I know that with the Beast, I get my best bird in flight photos with the stabilization turned off, so I shot some both ways today. I can’t say that I could see very much difference between the IS in mode 2 or turned off completely, either way, the new lens did fairly well. I got more duds due to lighting than from the photos not being sharp enough.
I’m going to post way too many photos for one day, not only because the new lens and I are starting to get along very well together, but also because I caught a couple of examples of interesting bird behavior, starting with this red-winged blackbird, which would chew on a twig….
…chew on whatever it was that he got from the twig….
…then, sing to let the world know he was happy.
Shortly after that, this Cooper’s hawk did a fly by for me, I shut the IS off, but didn’t have time to change to my bird in flight set-up.
I had the IS off for this shot of a ring-billed gull as well, being white, they don’t need help as far as exposure.
Two gulls landed, waddled up to each other, and even though it may not look like it, they must have been happy to see each other…
..because they began rubbing their bills together, must be a mated pair?
Their greetings over with, they waddled off in search of food.
I caught a brown creeper looking for its lunch.
I think that they are the toughest species of bird to get a good photo of since they blend in so well with tree bark.
The downy woodpeckers on the other hand, are rather easy to get good photos of.
In the summer, goldfinches are easy to photograph also, but this one this morning was a bit shy, maybe because he’s just starting to get his summer feathers.
This species, eastern towhee, are always hard to photograph, because they spend most of their time on the ground in thickets. I heard this one singing first, then spent a considerable amount of time chasing him around through the brush, before getting a few so-so photos.
The first one of the year! It was good to hear him singing “Drink your tea”, it means spring is really here!
So does the appearance of this species, eastern meadowlark.
This cardinal followed me around for a short distance….
…which I thought was unusual, they can be shy, he acted as if he wanted his photo taken, but he was really trying to get me to notice that the maple buds are just starting to open.
I’m going to skip a few photos, and go to the last good one of the day, this turkey vulture in flight.
That was shot with IS mode 2, and my bird in flight set-up.
I’ve had, and been using, the new 300 mm prime lens for a week now, and the photos that it produces are getting better with each passing day. Part of that is me tweaking the focus at times, but I didn’t have to do that as often today, the lens was correct in its auto-focus more often than what it had been up till today.
A raw, blustery day, with occasional spits of rain. I doubt if I’ll get many photos, that’s okay, I’ve gone a bit overboard with the photos so far this week.
I also overslept, so I won’t have as much time, but as nasty as the weather is, I wouldn’t be fooling around for very long anyway.
I’ll take the extender off from the 300 mm lens today, it’s too gloomy outside for that today. I should have noted in my praise for the Tamron extender, that it, or any extender for that matter, is best used in good light, as you lose a full stop with the extender installed on any lens.
Yesterday, when I was about half-way through my walk, and before I knew how well my photos were going to turn out, a strange feeling came over me, almost like a voice from above, telling me that everything was okay, and that I was going to get some fantastic photos this summer. Not just very good photos, but some exceptional ones. I liked that thought, but it was also strange, and even a little scary in a way.
It wasn’t as if that’s where my thoughts were at the time, it was more of a bolt from the blue. Maybe I’m going crazy from spending so much time alone?
I don’t want to make too much of that, but it has changed my outlook in a way, I hope that it turns out that way. Only time, and a lot more photos, will tell if that was true.
Well, before I let on to the rest of the world just how crazy I really am, I suppose that it’s time for food and a walk.
Okay, it’s confirmed, I am crazy!
Today was one of those days when no one in their right mind would be outdoors taking photographs, what with the wind, rain, and ice.
But I spent so much time out there, and shot so many photos, that I don’t have time to finish this before work, so I’ll have to do so when I get home tonight.
It was also a day that I wished that I had taken more of my gear with me, like the tripod, macro lens, and even the 15-85 mm lens, although I have no idea how I could have kept it all dry in the rain. So, I made do with just the 300 mm prime, feeling a little smug because I had chosen that lens for its close focusing ability.
We humans are so spoiled, at least those who aren’t as crazy as I am, for the wildlife still has to survive in weather like the miserable weather today.
I couldn’t get the new lens to auto-focus on the cardinal, those were shot in manual focus. But, the new lens had no trouble auto-focusing on the towhee. I’ve noticed that no matter which lens I’m using, my camera has more trouble getting a focus lock on red subjects than any other color, especially in low light.
Oh, allow me to brag a little more about the new 300 mm prime lens. It may require a bit of help now and then, but it is extremely versatile as you can see, going from near macro photos to getting shots of the birds, exactly what I was looking for as an alternative to the Beast as a walking around lens. And, the more that I use it, the less help that it seems to need as far as auto-focusing.
I thought about changing the camera settings to the ones that I use in low light, but with the new lens, I don’t have to, it does just fine with my normal settings. In fact, I may have to dial the camera back a little for the new lens, but I’ll have to see a few more photos first.
Anyway, the rest of the photos from today are of ice-covered subjects, too many of them, but I like them all.
Well, that’s it for the day.
I’ve felt as if I’ve been running behind all this week so far, I was just getting caught up, and I blew that feeling away by spending time investigating super wide-angle lenses. It’s all my brother’s fault, he just received his new camera body with a Sigma 10-20 mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens, and now, I want one too. Well, that will have to stay on my wish list for a while.
It isn’t because my brother has one that I want one, the reason that he bought his is that we’ve been discussing the possibilities that come with super wide lenses. Even stopped down a little, those lenses give you an incredible amount of depth of field, which adds depth to the photos they produce. My little Canon Powershot is very good that way, and I miss those capabilities. I’ve considered carrying the Powershot at times to use just for that reason, but that would be one more thing to lug along, and I’d seldom use it, because as good as it is, the Powershot can’t match my 60 D as far as image quality.
Oh well, wishful thinking on my part, I have to save up for my vacation before I consider purchasing another lens, but it’s fun to shop.
The weather today is much like yesterday, sans the ice. Cold, cloudy, rainy, and windy, at least the weekend is looking good. On Saturday, I’ll spend the day playing here, since the first flowers of the year are starting to appear. Then on Sunday, it’s serious birding time along the Lake Michigan shore!
I’m back from my walk, and I think that I may become physically ill, for the new lens stopped focusing altogether today. It was just getting to where it was focusing better with each day, but towards the end of my walk, I was shooting photos of a mallard, and the lens just quit focusing, I can’t even get it to focus manually. I can hear the motor go in auto-focus, and can hear it “hunt” for a focus, but what I see through the viewfinder doesn’t change at all, it’s the same when I turn the focus ring, nothing happens.
Hopefully, it will be covered under warranty, or at least it should be. Still, it has me worried. Just what I didn’t need!
Anyway, here’s the last photos that the lens produced, nothing special, except for how well they turned out in the poor light today.
A call to B & H Photo, the company that I purchased the new lens from, has put my mind at ease, at least a little. I have to box the lens up and ship it back, but they are going to exchange it for another one, whew!
It’s hard to get my mind off the new lens, but there is other news.
A few years ago, I did a series of posts about a dam on the Pigeon River, and how the operators of the dam had been responsible for three very large fish kills over the years. Here’s a blurb from an Email that I received this morning from Trout Unlimited.
“It was June 23, 2008 when the catastrophe on the Pigeon River occurred. For those that remember, it was when Golden Lotus (Song of the Morning Ranch) discharged tons of sediment from their impoundment due to faulty dam management. This resulted in a fish kill of over 500,000 trout. That sediment discharge was the third such occurrence in 51 years.”
The last fish kill is one of the reasons that I didn’t do much trout fishing last year, or the year before, the Pigeon is my favorite river, and where I normally go for my spring vacation. But, there were few fish left in the river after the last sediment discharge, and the few that were present, were all small.
Well, I think that enough time has transpired for the trout to have recovered, so that’s why I’m going to the Pigeon River Country for one week of my upcoming vacation, to do some fishing.
The news from Trout Unlimited is that the lawsuit filed by the State of Michigan, TU, and others against Golden Lotus (Song of the Morning Ranch) has finally been settled, with the dam scheduled for removal. Good news for every one who loves wild rivers and the trout that live in them!
I’m really bummed about the new lens giving up the ghost, I had fallen in love with it! But, that’s the way that my luck goes, just like the large prints that I ordered getting lost for a few days.
It could be that the reason that I had trouble getting the lens to auto-focus correctly was a symptom of the problem that has caused the lens to fail to focus at all. We’ll see when the replacement arrives, which can’t be soon enough to suit me. It was proving to be even better than what I had hoped. Oh well.
It’s partly sunny and cool this morning, most of the light snow from overnight has already melted. After I return home from shipping the lens back, I’m going to play pack mule today. I’m going to take the Beast for birding, and most of my other gear along for the first flowers of spring! My plan is to spend most of the daylight hours outside, if my back holds up. 😉
I had better be wise about pushing myself today, as the weather is forecast to be even nicer tomorrow, and for that matter, for most of the next week. Spring is finally really here!
I could be wrong, but I expect to shoot a lot of photos today and tomorrow, too many to add to this post, which is already too long. So, I’m going to publish this in the morning before my walk. Then, I’ll see how many good photos I do get this weekend, I may have to go back to doing posts about just my weekends if what I think is going to happen does happen.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!