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

Another quick update

I’m back again, it was another four great days up north, this time I stayed at the Ossineke State Forest Campground where I had stayed last Memorial Day weekend. I was really torn about coming home a day or two early, but I’ve wanted this vacation to be all about relaxing. By coming home a little early, I avoid the traffic of the holiday weekend, and it gives me time to unpack, clean, and put my camping gear away. Besides, I’ve found that four 16 to 18 hour days of chasing birds wears me out even if I eat better. 😉

Overall the weather was fair, although very windy for the first two days, with a mixture of complete overcast to totally sunny times for much of my time up there.

I got a lifer, a northern parula, if you see all of the  so-so photos of it that I took, it will look like a northern parula.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

And, I was able to get photos of a species that I had seen before, but never photographed, Caspian Terns.

Caspian tern

Caspian tern

Not bad, an hour after I arrived, I had photos of one of the terns and you can even see its tongue, I’m getting good at that. 😉

Mostly, I was able to get better photos of birds that I’ve already done posts on in the My Photo Life List project that I’m working on.

Okay, I’m going to go into some detail concerning camera gear, so you may want to skip this part.

As you may know, I recently purchased a 300 mm prime L series lens. When the auto-focus is dead on, the lens is astounding as far as the results that I get. However, it is seldom dead on.

After talking to the Canon rep last weekend, I’ve been using the rear button auto-focus most of the time, even though that ties my thumb up so that I have a harder time making exposure adjustments. That does seem to speed the lens up, and it tracks flying birds better that way, as this series of images of a northern harrier (hen harrier, or marsh hawk) will show.

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

Northern harrier in flight

But, for small birds in the brush, the new lens is hit or miss, with far too many misses, like this shot of a black-throated blue warbler which should have been very good.

Black-throated blue warbler

Black-throated blue warbler

I was so ticked off at the new lens after reviewing my photos each night that on the third day, I went back to the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens). It may not have the absolute quality of the new lens, but 95%of the photos that I shoot with it are at minimum, good photos, unless I’m the reason the photos aren’t good.

Horned lark

Horned lark

Semi-palmated plover

Semi-palmated plover

You can even see the plover’s slightly web feet, which are what gave it its name.

(all of these photos and more will be added to the posts already done in the My Photo Life List project)

So, I’ve been in a quandary, what should I do?

I love the Beast for its reliability, see a bird, get good photo of bird, but it’s still a beast to carry, and it doesn’t close focus well.

The new lens can produce better photos, about one out of twenty when it comes to small birds, but it’s light, easy to carry, and does great on flowers, insects, and flying birds.

I have even gone so far as to carry both lenses with me on very short walks, but I’m not tough enough to do that for any more than a mile or so total. And then, I don’t bring either of my short lenses with me for these types of photos.

Sand Cress

Sand Cress

Lake Huron shore near Rockport State Park

Lake Huron shore near Rockport State Park

It was too nice of a day to stay home today, so I went to the Muskegon area with my first stop at Lane’s Landing to look for the prothonotary warbler that I saw earlier this week. I had no luck finding it, but I did get better images of great crested flycatchers.

Great crested flycatcher

Great crested flycatcher

On my way back to my vehicle, I was weighing the pros and cons of the two lenses I’ve been writing about, and what I should do. I won’t recount the entire debate That I had with myself, I’ll only say that I came to the conclusion that I have to make the new lens work and work well, I paid too much for it not to use it, and the Beast is still a beast to carry.

Long time readers may remember that I have two Canon 60 D bodies, one that I have set for wildlife, and the other is set for landscapes and macros. I also have another L series lens, a 70-200 mm.

I’ve also had trouble getting the 70-200 mm lens to auto-focus accurately 100% of the time on the wildlife body, it seemed to function better on the second body when I purchased the second body and tested my lenses on it.

So, I decided that I would bite the bullet and change all the settings on the landscape body over to use it on birds and go to the Muskegon Lake Nature preserve to give that combination the torture test.

The Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve is almost all very thick brush, made even worse for photography now because all the brush is beginning to leaf out. I went looking for small birds lurking in the shade or hiding behind branches, as all I wanted to do was to test was the auto-focus of the new lens on the second camera body.

Wilson's warbler

Wilson’s warbler

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Cedar waxwing eating flowering tree flowers

Cedar waxwing eating flowering tree flowers

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Unidentified sparrow

Unidentified sparrow

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

The difference in performance between the two bodies with the new lens was amazing! There were a few clinkers, but no more than I would have expected if I had used the Beast on the body that I use for wildlife, and I’m not sure if the Beast could have pulled off the warbling vireo photos that I shot.

But, just a few photos aren’t a good enough test, however, I do think that some how, for some reason, the second body performs better as far as auto-focusing with the L series lenses. As soon as I put the focusing spot on a bird and used either the shutter release or the rear button, the lens snapped into focus on what I had put the spot on. It didn’t hunt like it normally does on the first body, nor did it focus on other things in the frame. That was especially noticeable in the low light photos that I shot.

So, I’ll do more testing of the new lens on the second body, and the Beast on that body as well, and see how things work. I should really bite the bullet and swap all the settings in both bodies right now, as the auto-focus isn’t that important for landscapes shot with a wide lens stopped down for depth of field, and I always manually focus for macros. In fact, I think that’s what I’ll do when I get the time.

Right now, I’m gong to get caught up with the posts that you’ve all done while I was up north.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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22 responses

  1. It looks like you’ve found the answer to the new lens problem. Those shots are amazing. I’m wishing I could borrow your Beast for my eaglet fledging. Or better yet, your technical skill at shooting birds in dappled shade at a goodly distance.

    May 26, 2014 at 12:01 am

    • Thanks! I’ll learn by the end of the week if my problem is truly solved or not, but it looks like it. The Beast may help a little in getting better photos of the eaglet, but there are practical limits to how far one can shoot photos without the atmospheric conditions ruining the images. I find that 100 feet is about the longest distance that I can get good photos at, if it’s a clear day with no haze or dust. My skill at shooting birds in the dappled sunlight is knowing to use partial spot or full spot metering so that the bird is exposed correctly and going down 1/3 of a stop, as hard as that may be to believe.

      May 26, 2014 at 8:20 am

  2. Welcome back, Jerry. Curious about the location of your campsite. Tried to find Ossineke State Forest on Google maps, and drew a blank. Were you camping in an established campground with picnic tables and fire rings? Near Negwegon State Park?

    Sounds like you need someone to carry your gear on a hike. Thanks for throwing in the waxwing photo, and I really liked the Great Crested Flycatcher.

    May 26, 2014 at 12:53 am

    • Thanks Judy! Ossineke is the little village that you go through if you travel from Negwegon State Park to Alpena. The campground is to the east of the village on the south shore of Thunder Bay. However, I would not recommend camping there in the summer, the campground is in a marsh with lots of water between the sites. Skeeter hell in the summer I would assume. But, it makes a good spot to stay in early spring or late fall to chase migrating birds.

      Anytime that you’re ready to go birding, let me know, I think that you can get my email address from the comments that I have left on your blog.

      May 26, 2014 at 8:25 am

      • I’ve got a few volunteer commitments for the next couple of weekends, but am looking forward to being your gofer for a day. Will be in touch.

        May 26, 2014 at 8:55 am

  3. Glad you had such a successful time seeing and photographing news birds for the first time, have a relaxing day as a result.

    May 26, 2014 at 4:36 am

    • Thank you very much Susan!

      May 26, 2014 at 8:25 am

  4. We have a Olympus E620 with a 140-300 mm zoom (600 mm equivalent) which does very well with static hard edged objects but really struggles to produce a crispy bird pic. I’ve tried everything. It’s bad enough that my wife would rather use her Panasonic FZ150! Great shot of the Semi-palmated plover!

    May 26, 2014 at 5:53 am

    • Thanks Bob. As I learn more about photography, one of my biggest surprises has been how much difference there is between what are supposed to be identical lenses and bodies.

      May 26, 2014 at 8:26 am

  5. It looks to me like you’re getting some excellent photos. I love the colors in that lake Huron shot and the semi-palmated plover looks like he was asking you a question.
    I’m sure you’ll get the body / lens issue sorted out. Did you have a chance to use the new macro lens?

    May 26, 2014 at 9:03 am

    • Thanks Allen! With some sun, the colors of Lake Huron were putting on a show, I shot way too many photos of it. The plover and two least sandpipers were feeding peaceably a short distance from me when a third sandpiper began herding the others towards me until they were almost at my feet. I think the plover was just checking me out to see that I meant no harm.

      I did use the new Tokina macro lens, the sand cress was shot with it. I also tried for some dwarf lake iris, but those photos didn’t come out well, and I’m not sure why. That’s my second attempt at them, and there must be a trick to getting the yellow in the petals to look like it’s in focus. Everything else in the frame was so why the yellow looks out of focus, I don’t know. I also used that lens on a few other flowers, but it was an extremely windy four days. There were 3 to 4 foot waves on Thunder Bay, which is relatively small. I’ll bet the waves on Lake Michigan were running 10 feet or more.

      May 26, 2014 at 12:43 pm

  6. In my experience, yellow is hard for my camera to get in focus so it may be a function of that particular colour rather than the camera. A lot of great shots in this post.

    May 26, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    • Thanks Tom! I seem to have more trouble with red than any other color, that may be the difference between the Nikon and Canon systems.

      May 26, 2014 at 8:01 pm

  7. Love that little plover! Really captures personality–which may be as elusive as a lightweight, reliable, good-focusing lens!!! 🙂

    May 27, 2014 at 9:55 am

    • Thanks! I believe that you’re right about the lens!

      May 27, 2014 at 3:10 pm

  8. I thought of you this weekend while we were kayaking a river. We had a bald eagle travel at least half the river with us. He was so close, flying over our heads that you could have captured many great shots of him. He was gorgeous.

    It sounds like you had a great vacation and have a lot of editing to do of all the pics you took. Thanks for sharing the beauty of the outdoors through your eyes with all of us.

    May 27, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    • Thank you!

      May 27, 2014 at 3:10 pm

  9. Love that Caspian tern! And the look on the semi-palmated plover’s face is priceless! I also really liked that shot of the cedar waxwing, even though it is in shadow, it’s a very striking photo, very artistic!

    I hope you enjoyed your vacation. I assume it’s back to work for you this week.

    May 28, 2014 at 11:23 am

    • Thanks Amy! Yes, I’m back to the grind this week. I wasn’t trying to be artistic with the waxwing, I was testing the auto-focus problems in poor light, but the shot looked worth posting.

      May 28, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      • Your waxwing photos are always amazing – I am jealous of them!! Maybe someday I will get a photo of them with my new camera! 🙂

        May 28, 2014 at 2:31 pm

  10. Moe good photos. The green water on Lake Huron is lovely and the shot of the Sand Cress is so clear

    June 4, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      June 5, 2014 at 2:42 am