My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

A quick update

I’m running behind on getting my posts done from the four days I was up north, and I’ll get further behind the way that things are going around here. This post will be more words than photos and focused mainly on my camera gear, so if you’re easily bored, you may want to skip this one, although I’ll have to throw in a few photos.

A quick overview of what’s been going on in my life since I returned home, but before I begin, I have bitten the bullet and purchased more storage space from WordPress, so that I’ll be able to continue to post photos.

On Thursday, the weather was miserable, with temps in the 40’s, along with wind and rain, but I still managed a lifer, a blue headed vireo.

Blue headed vireo

Blue headed vireo

On Friday, with only slightly better weather, I went to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve, and shot a ton of photos of migrating birds, including another lifer, a Cape May Warbler.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

On Saturday, the local camera store where I have purchased the majority of my photo equipment had the reps from most of the manufacturers whose equipment they sell in the store for the day to answer questions. That’s the boring part, I’ll get back to that later, other than to say that I learned a lot in an hour talking to the one knowledgeable member of the sales staff ably assisted by the Canon rep.

After that, I went to a wetland near the store to test what I had learned.

House wren blinking

House wren blinking

And despite some ominous looking clouds at times….

Yikes again!

Yikes

Yikes!

Yikes again!!

…I went to the local park to further test my new knowledge.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

On Sunday, I went to the Muskegon area, visiting several places within the Muskegon State Game area, along with the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and got another lifer, a blue winged warbler.

Blue-winged warbler

Blue-winged warbler

That, along with a few other (dozen) of the species that I see more often, including a yellow warbler showing me its tongue….

Yellow warbler

Yellow warbler

…and a juvenile bald eagle.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Okay, on to the boring bits. (There will be a few more photos, I promise, some may even be good)

I said that on Saturday that I went to the local camera store to talk to the Canon rep, I learned more about the technical aspects, mainly software related, what the camera can and can’t do, and most importantly, the why behind it all.

My main question was why couldn’t I get the new 300 mm prime lens to auto-focus as accurately on birds as does the Beast. (Sigma 150-500 mm lens).

As you may know, every brand of camera has a processor, or computer in it, as do almost all, if not all, of the lenses on the market these days. There’s a lot that happens when you press the shutter release of a modern camera half way down, including starting the auto-focus system to go into action, along with exposure control, the camera alerting the lens what aperture the lens should set itself to, white balance adjustments, and so on.

So, the first thing that I learned was that the button on the rear of my 60 D body that I thought was the focus lock was really a button to make the camera and lens auto-focus only, and not to “talk” to each other about anything else, until they achieved a focus lock.

All the other communications between the body and lens slows down how quickly that they can work to get a focus lock when you press the shutter release half way down.

Oh boy, another button to play with! Now I need a few more fingers. 😉 Actually, using the rear auto-focus button is quite easy in practice. I’m not sure that using it speeds things up that much, as I lose a little time pressing the shutter release after the camera alerts me that it has achieved a focus lock, but it seems to. It also seems slightly more accurate, on Saturday, I would have said the difference was 80% better, but after Sunday, I would drop that to 25%. That’s mainly due to the differences in lighting and subjects between the two days. The rear button auto-focus helps, but doesn’t solve the problem.

After this morning, I’m not sure if all the problem is really the auto-focusing of the new lens after all, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

My problem is made more difficult because I’m using a Tamron 1.4 X tele-converter with the 300 mm lens. Optically, the Tamron extender is great, but it doesn’t speak the exact same language as the Canon body and lens do. I think that I received an honest answer when I asked if I would see better performance if I used a Canon extender and was told that I would see a slight increase in performance, and that a Canon extender wouldn’t totally solve the problem.

Next up, high ISO. The weather and lighting were so poor on Thursday that for the first time ever, I set my camera to go as high as ISO 6400. The images I got weren’t the same as if I had been able to shoot at ISO 100 by any means, but there wasn’t as much sensor noise as I had feared that there would be. I asked about that on Saturday, and if the 300 mm prime lens could or would make a difference.

The short answer is yes. One thing that I have really liked about the new lens is how clear, as well as sharp, everything looks in my photos when I use it. The Beast comes very close to matching the new lens in sharpness, as you will soon see, but the images are still not quite as clear as the new lens produces.

That clarity, or, the technical term is resolution, of the new lens, is what cuts down on sensor noise at high ISO settings when I use it. The imperfections in the glass of the lenses give the sensor something to “read” as it records a photo, causing more noise than if the glass were truly perfect, which no glass is. But, the better the glass used in a lens, the less sensor noise will be apparent in your photos.

Side note to all the well-meaning people who warned me about sensor noise being bad with a Canon 60 D body, thanks, but you didn’t know what you were talking about. I wouldn’t say that ISO 2500 is all that high, but this photos was shot at that setting this morning. And, most of the photos that I have taken at ISO settings above 3200 have come out well enough that I’m happy with them. I guess it’s a matter of how much sensor noise one can tolerate, along with the quality of lenses used.

Grey catbird blinking

Grey catbird blinking

And, that was shot with the Beast, not the new lens!

Okay, another piece of the auto-focus problem that I have with the new lens is its higher resolution (clarity) and because Canon programs their lenses to “see” smaller things in the frame when auto-focusing than what Sigma does from the looks of my photos. Often, there’s a twig or leaf in front of the bird that I’m trying to photograph, and the obstruction is in focus when I use the new lens, but the Beast doesn’t “see” the obstruction, and focuses on the larger subject, the bird behind it.

But, there’s more to it than that, I think that exposure settings come into play as well, especially after a little more testing that I did this morning. I took both the Beast and the new lens to the local park that I walk each morning, and put them through some testing, building on what I had learned Saturday, and in practice since then.

Unfortunately, I didn’t swap lenses back and forth on the same subjects, but I noticed one thing right away. The Canon body stops the Beast down to a smaller aperture than it does the new lens, whether or not I’m using the new lens with the extender. That gives the Beast a larger depth of field to assist in getting more in focus than the new lens. I manually opened up the Beast to the same settings that I see when I use the new lens, and I got twigs and leaves in focus, but the bird behind them out of focus, just what I get with the new lens. Hmmm.

Anyway, my shots with the new lens, not using the extender.

Tulip

Tulip

Tulip

Tulip

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

???

???

Crab apple blossoms

Crab apple blossoms

Unfortunately, the birds wouldn’t play nice while I had the new lens on, but here’s what I shot with the Beast this morning.

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

Crab apples blossoming

Crab apples blossoming

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Brown headed cowbird

Brown headed cowbird

Tulip

Tulip

Nashville warbler

Nashville warbler

Nashville warbler

Nashville warbler

American robin

American robin

Morel mushroom?

Morel mushroom?

Leaves

Leaves

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow singing

Savannah sparrow singing

Toad hiding

Toad hiding

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

So, now I find myself in a bit of a quandary, despite everything that I’ve written in this post, the Beast is simply better than the new lens at getting photos of small birds in thick brush. I got so frustrated with the new lens yesterday at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve that I took the extender off from the new lens and tried that set-up for smaller birds trying to hide. It helped a little, but not that much.

But, I was blown away by the sharpness of the photos that I did get.

American robin

American robin

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

They are super sharp, but are they really that much better than what the Beast produces?

Part of the reason for all this is that I missed a Prothonotary warbler on Sunday, as the new lens with the extender was too slow, and by the time I got the warbler in focus, it took off. I’m not positive that I could have gotten the photo with the Beast, but I would have had a better chance with it than the new lens.

Well, that and the fact that I hiked six to eight miles a day while I was on vacation, and I was sure glad not to be dragging the Beast with me that far. However, there were times when I wished that I had taken the Beast as I was fighting the new lens to get a good photo of a bird.

But, my problem is the same as always, I go from trying to get a warbler in a thicket of brush to shooting an eagle circling over me, and there’s no ideal lens for both, not to mention all the other subjects that I photograph.

I’m going to have to use the Beast when I go on a serious birding trip like Muskegon on Sunday, even if I miss the close focusing capabilities of the new lens for blooms and bugs. And, even if the Beast doesn’t do birds in flight as well as the new lens does.

I think that I can play with the new lens around here some more, to learn how to get it to focus the way that I would like it to. And, stop the lens down a little whenever I can to get a greater depth of field. I do know that the new lens performs much better in low light than the Beast as well.

But, if I go on any longer, I’ll be repeating myself as I think all of this through.

Now then, to completely change the subject, the weather is forecast to clear up Wednesday, and be nice right through the weekend, so I’ll be headed back up north Wednesday morning. I have groceries to buy and such to get ready to go, so I have to concentrate on that.

So, that’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

Advertisements

21 responses

  1. Thanks for sharing all the technical info. The practicing and learning never stops 🙂

    May 19, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    • Thanks, I never know how in depth that I should go when discussing such things. But, I do try to pass on what I learn.

      May 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm

  2. Anonymous

    Personally, I think you would have seen better results with a Canon 1.4 extender. I find they are spot-on tack sharp. Great post. Really enjoyed it and your photos.

    May 19, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    • Thanks for the input, you may be right!

      May 19, 2014 at 5:44 pm

  3. So now not only are the birds posing for you but they’re winking as well!
    The shots of the various sparrows are excellent, and that does look like a morel mushroom.
    The yellow flowers might be yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris.)
    I think my favorite shot is of the savannah sparrow in the grass.

    May 19, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    • Thanks, but I haven’t been able to teach the birds around here the tricks that Tootlepedal has taught his, but he feeds his birds, maybe I should start doing that.

      May 19, 2014 at 10:55 pm

  4. I like to read of your lens experiences. It is helpful. As a side note, if 2000 words and lots of pictures constitutes a quick update, I wouldn’t like to think what a full update would look like.

    May 19, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    • Thanks Tom! I never know how much detail to go into when discussing equipment, I’m afraid that most people prefer to remain uneducated.
      As far as a quick update vs. a full post, a full post is 5,000 words and 50 photos, my usual. 😉

      May 19, 2014 at 10:57 pm

  5. Congratulations on the blue-headed vireo and the Cap May warbler! So excited for you! The sharpness on that warbling vireo is outstanding! I’m always impressed at how you gain knowledge and then put it into practice. So many people (me included) can “learn” something new but not be able to utilize the knowledge.

    May 19, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    • Definitely a morel. Hope you took it home for dinner. If not, hope you remember where that spot was….there may be a couple of morels there next year. Liked the hiding toad shot a lot!

      May 19, 2014 at 9:28 pm

      • Thanks Judy! I left the morel, I know two things about mushrooms, that they are fungi, and some are deadly. So, I leave it to others test which ones are the deadly ones.

        May 19, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    • Thanks Amy! My forte has always been the practical application of the knowledge that I have retained. I’m one of those weirdos that actually likes solving difficult problems.

      May 19, 2014 at 11:03 pm

  6. Thanks for the outstanding shot of the juvenile eagle flying. I’ve been checking on my eagle’s nest and it looks like my juvenile hasn’t fledged yet, but your shot may help me ID him when he does.

    May 20, 2014 at 4:48 am

    • Thanks, but the one in my photo was two or three years old. The first year when they fledge, they will be all brown.

      May 20, 2014 at 6:29 am

  7. I am deleting much in my storage space contents to make room again. All the stuff has been posted and there is no limit in wp posting so I don’t feel I need storage. I can always download a blog post’s material from the blog for some reason. I can also store blog post material in the cloud free and on hard drive, disc or flash drive, so storage space in wp is not only option. Actually unnecessary.

    May 20, 2014 at 9:18 am

    • Thanks Carl, I considered doing that, or just starting another blog, which many people do when they hit their space limit. But, even though my early photos stink, they are still a record of my life, and they do trace my evolution as a photographer, so I decided to keep them. Besides, if I can shell out for quality lenses, I can afford a few bucks a year to WordPress for storage space for my blog.

      May 20, 2014 at 9:23 am

  8. A really informative post. I like the way you talk us through your problems with focusing. If only we could take photos with our eyes (of course with a zoom button added) Sorry, that’s a bit weird. I loved the cloud shots.

    May 20, 2014 at 9:53 am

    • Thanks Clare, I have often thought the same thing.

      May 20, 2014 at 9:58 am

      • Oh good! I thought it was just me!

        May 20, 2014 at 10:09 am

  9. Some really lovely pictures, thank you.

    May 20, 2014 at 9:56 am

    • Thank you Susan!

      May 20, 2014 at 9:58 am