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

Just another week in paradise

I know that I’ve been harping on that online review of the Sigma 150-500 mm lens which called it junk, but there’s a reason for that. My youngest brother and one of his friends are also into photography, and my brother has  the Sigma lens for his Pentax camera bodies. He shows his friend the photos that he shoots with the Sigma, the friend admits that they are excellent photos, but the friend won’t purchase the Sigma lens because of the negative online reviews of it that the friend has seen. Instead, the friend is trying to save for one of the big money lenses from the same manufacturer as his camera.

There are several types of online reviews. There’s the lab tests, where the reviewer shoots a few photos of test patterns to generate hard numbers about the sharpness and other qualities of a lens. The problem with those is that most people reading them don’t really understand how those numbers produced during the lab tests relate to photos taken in the real world, or how to compare those number to those from other lenses. Lab tests are usually the most objective, but they don’t tell you how well a lens will perform under real-life conditions.

On paper, the Sigma can’t hold a candle to the 300 mm prime lens I own, yet out in the real world, I find that holds its own quite well. What it lacks in absolute image quality, it makes up for in its ability to get the photo I’m after. The Sigma remains my go to lens for birding because with it, I see bird, I shoot bird, I get a usable photo. If I have the time, I can then go for precise focusing, and get even better photos. With the 300 mm, I have to play with it to get the first shot, which still isn’t usable far too often. By then, the bird is gone, and I have no photo.

Then there are the “expert” user reviews, usually a professional photographer looking to make a few bucks on the side. The problem with those reviews is that many of the professionals are tied to one manufacturer. They may get free equipment, discounts on equipment, or some other form of compensation from a manufacturer for endorsing their products. I know that Canon has a program where they provide free service to a select group of photographers who promote Canon products. If they break or wear out a camera or lens, Canon repairs it for free. Seldom do the reviewers disclose that. And even if a professional isn’t getting any compensation from a manufacturer, it could be that they are trying very hard to become one of the pros who do get some form of compensation.

Finally, there are the average Joe reviews. The problem with those is that you never know how skilled Joe is when he writes his review. There are some people who are not very good photographers, and can’t get quality photos no matter what equipment that they are using. To them, every piece of equipment is junk, because they don’t know how to use it. On the other end of the scale are those people who absolutely love every piece of equipment that they purchase.

Another problem with average Joe reviews is that you can’t be sure that Joe ever used the equipment that they review. I’ve seen some that were honest “I’ve never used this, but I can tell from the specs that this is junk”, but you have to wonder about others as well. One review sticks out in my mind, it was a review of the 60 D body, which has an articulated LCD screen. The reviewer trashed the camera for having an articulated screen, even though I, and most people who have that camera, absolutely love the articulated screen. If the reviewer didn’t like being able to twist and turn the screen to see it from odd angles, they could have easily turned screen around, nested it in the camera’s housing and left it that way, so it would be like almost every other camera on the market. You have to wonder if the reviewer worked for, or was somehow associated with a competing manufacturer that hasn’t come out with articulated display screens yet.

I’ve tried to be very objective and honest about the gear I have purchased as I’ve learned how to use it, and I’ve tried to pass what I’ve learned on. The only reason that I chose Canon cameras over Nikon, Pentax, Sony, or any other brand is because I researched lenses before I committed to a brand of camera to see what affordable lenses were available to fit my needs and budget. I would still recommend Canon to any one getting started in nature photography because of the relatively affordable lenses suited for nature photography that will fit Canon bodies. I’ll also tell you straight out that the Canon 60 D bodies that I own have several weaknesses, and that the Pentax bodies my brother owns are superior.

However, none of the weaknesses of the Canon cameras are glaring ones, and nothing that I can’ work around.

The same holds true of the Beast (the Sigma lens), it has some weaknesses, it isn’t as sharp past 400 mm as it is at lower focal lengths. I’ve learned to limit how far I zoom the lens to 400 mm or less whenever possible, and crop slightly more if I have to. But, when I need the full 500 mm of focal length, like when I was chasing the sedge wrens that I wrote about a few weeks ago, I have the full 500 mm of focal length to at least get a usable image, which is better than no image.

The Sigma isn’t as sharp with the aperture wide open as it is when I stop it down to f/8 or more. So, I’ve started shooting in the Av mode with the camera set at f/8 to start, and if I can go farther, I do. That lens produces more sensor noise at ISO settings above 1600 than what my Canon 300 mm L series lens does, but that’s one of the reasons that I have the 300 mm lens, for use when it’s dark and dreary outside.

The secret to good photos is learning your equipment, what it is capable of, what it isn’t capable of, and learning how to use its strengths to overcome any weaknesses.

Another reason that I’m repeating myself as far as the Sigma lens is that I’ve learned that there is a practical limit to the distance that you can shoot quality photos at, and that the distance is approximately 100 feet, depending on the atmospheric conditions of the day. Like every one else who’s into nature photography, I’m guilty of drooling over those super long telephoto lenses over 600 mm in focal length. But, those lenses wouldn’t let me shoot at any greater distance than what I can shoot with the equipment that I presently own. The only difference is that I’d have to do less cropping to my images. No lens, no matter how good, can cut through heat waves rising from the ground, or the haze, dust, humidity, and pollution that’s in the air. All those things disperse light as it travels from the intended subject to the camera lens, and dispersed light means soft images.

If I lived in a mountainous region somewhere, it would be different. The air is thinner the higher up in elevation you go, and thinner air holds less of the things that disperse light. One of the super long telephoto lenses would make more sense if I lived in an area where they would perform better for me. Here in Michigan, I see no reason to spend the kind of money that those lenses cost just so that I wouldn’t have to crop my images a little less than I do with images from the Sigma lens.

I’ve had another chance to test the Sigma lens with the 1.4 X tele-converter behind it, this time on an eagle. With the tele-converter behind the Sigma, it becomes a 700 mm lens, which I was hoping would extend the range at which I could photograph subjects. Early this spring, I was able to get some very good photos of waterfowl with that set-up, but the waterfowl were very close to me. Unfortunately, the eagle flew off before I could complete my testing at a longer distance, stupid birds, they seldom cooperate, but the photos that I did get have added to my knowledge base. Those photos will appear in a future post, right now, it’s time for some photos from last week.

Unknown daylily

Unknown day lily

Indian love call daylily

Indian love call day lily

Both of those were shot with the Beast. The only reason I remember that is because I was a bit surprised at how well they came out. Since I have begun using the tricks that I learned using the 300 mm prime lens to get the focus sharper when using the Beast, it’s getting to the point where I can no longer tell by looking at my images which lens I shot the image with.

I now carry either the Beast or the 300 mm prime lens on one body for birding. I also bring the second body with the Tokina macro lens on it, along with my newest lens, the 10-18 mm. The extreme close-ups were shot with the Tokina macro lens, but other than those, I can’t tell you which lens shot which photos.

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Michigan lily

Here’s a flower that I don’t remember having ever seen before.

Unknown yellow flower

Pale Jewelweed Flower

Unknown yellow flower

Pale Jewelweed Flower

Pale Jewelweed Flower

Pale Jewelweed Flower

I remember using the Tokina macro lens for this next one, because I had to shoot quite a few photos to get the exposure as close to correct as I could with as much as I could get of the flower in focus. I either over-exposed the white flowers, or under-exposed the purple flowers in most of the shots, this was as close as I could get.

Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

This was much easier.

Queen Anne's lace from behind

Queen Anne’s lace from behind

Bee on crown vetch

Bee on crown vetch

Bee flying near crown vetch

Bee flying near crown vetch

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Unknown fluttering object

Unknown fluttering object

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

I remember that this next one was taken with the 300 mm prime lens with tele-converter, because after this shot….

Stinkbug?

Stinkbug?

…I removed the tele-converter from the 300 mm prime lens, and used it behind the Tokina for these next few images.

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

Stinkbug?

Stinkbug?

Water drops

Water drops

The world in a drop

The world in a drop

Green bee

Green bee

In my last post, I had a photo of a female cardinal, she’s a model in training. 😉 I have a series of photos of her, starting with her in the shade, and slowly emerging from behind the vegetation as she got used to my being so close to her. She then flew to a tree where she was out in the open, and even closer to me, I shot more photos of her there. But then, she landed on the ground, almost at my feet for these, so there’s no reason to include the earlier photos.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

I’d say that this very young cardinal was a model in training also, for it stayed perched in one spot as I tried to get a better angle as far as lighting.

Juvenile  northern cardinal

Juvenile northern cardinal

Juvenile  northern cardinal

Juvenile northern cardinal

But after that last shot, its dad came along and scolded it for allowing the big bad photographer to get so close. However, with no tail, the youngster was having a hard time navigating through the foliage, so it paused for me to get this image.

Juvenile  northern cardinal

Juvenile northern cardinal

I started looking the other direction to see if there was anything on the other side of the trail to photograph, when I heard the youngster squawking, I turned around to catch dad feeding it.

Male northern cardinal feeding its young

Male northern cardinal feeding its young

The dad finished feeding the youngster, and spotted me.

Male northern cardinal and its young

Male northern cardinal and its young

The dad immediately hopped in front of the youngster to protect it.

Male northern cardinal protecting its young

Male northern cardinal protecting its young

Dad started reaming me out for getting so close to his young, it would have made a good photo, be he was obviously upset, so I backed away rather than go for the photo.

As luck would have it, I saw them again today. The youngster learned his lessons from dad well, it stayed well hidden as I tried for a photo. Dad came along and did the injured bird routine well away from the youngster, trying to draw my attention towards him. I had never seen a cardinal do that before, the adult fluttered downward from branch to branch as if injured, squawking the entire time to make sure that it had my attention. Once the youngster was well away from me, dad took off to join it.

There’s no great stories behind the rest of these, just photos that I thought were good enough to post.

Young red squirrel

Young red squirrel

Butterfly

Butterfly

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch

Male American goldfinch trying to hide

Male American goldfinch trying to hide

wasp and spider

wasp and spider

wasp and spider

wasp and spider

Aster?

Aster?

Young fox squirrel

Young fox squirrel

Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

Well, I have nothing more to say for this one, I have photos of a trip to Muskegon to post soon, including another lifer for me, marsh wrens.

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

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39 responses

  1. I like very much the reflexion in the eye of the young fox squirrel !!
    🙂

    August 5, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    • Thank you! It’s real, not added in Photoshop. 😉

      August 6, 2014 at 2:41 am

  2. It’s a real feast for the eyes. Beautiful shots!

    August 5, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      August 6, 2014 at 2:41 am

  3. Love the water droplet shots. Just another reminder to slow down and take a look!

    August 5, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    • Thanks Judy! If I hadn’t been crawling around on my hands and knees photographing the insects, I wouldn’t have noticed the water drops.

      August 6, 2014 at 2:43 am

  4. Terrific pix!

    August 5, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    • Thanks Cynthia!

      August 6, 2014 at 2:43 am

  5. So many good shots here – like a visit to a sweet shop! The flying bee with pollen dust on it, the water droplet, all the cardinal pictures, the Queen Anne’s Lace…..

    August 5, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    • Thank you Clare! Sometimes I worry about not having a “style” to my photos. I guess my “style” is a little of everything, hoping that every one finds something that they like.

      August 6, 2014 at 2:47 am

  6. I like the macros, even if they weren’t shot with a macro lens! I wish our gray squirrels were as friendly and inquisitive as red and fox squirrels. They’re usually on the run before you can get your lens cap off.
    I like the crazy hair on that female cardinal!

    August 5, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    • Thanks Allen! Lens cap, what’s that? 😉 I never have the lens cap on the long lens I’m carrying, it takes too long to remove it. I do keep the caps on my other lenses though. Fox squirrels are tame, but not red squirrels, if you notice, in most of my photos of them I’m shooting through a “tunnel” of foliage after I’ve been able to sneak up on them.

      August 6, 2014 at 2:51 am

  7. The range of your photography increases by the week.

    August 5, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    • Thanks Tom, it’s something that I hope continues to be the case!

      August 6, 2014 at 2:51 am

  8. Fantastic post.
    Really great to read the tech info. Thanks.. and love the images… Hard to choose one, but I do love the world in a drop.
    Beautiful captures.

    August 5, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    • Thank you very much Robyn!

      August 6, 2014 at 2:52 am

  9. Have to agree that your photography (not just the range) keeps increasing and improving with each post. I think the female cardinal shots are incredible. Some wonderful shooting there!

    August 6, 2014 at 2:42 am

    • Thank you very much! It helps when the birds pose so nicely for me, I need to train more models. 😉

      August 6, 2014 at 3:02 am

      • Dang! the only ones I get to pose for me are the gulls! 😉

        August 6, 2014 at 4:06 am

      • Don’t tell any one, but I honed my bird photography skills on gulls and mallards because they are willing to pose for me. 😉

        August 6, 2014 at 10:12 am

  10. It’s not just the camera it’s the eye behind the lens that matters and yours is a very good one.

    August 6, 2014 at 4:29 am

    • Thank you Susan! I’m not sure if I have that great of an eye for photography, I think that my eye for nature is the reason that I’m able to get the photos that I do.

      August 6, 2014 at 10:14 am

  11. The proof is in the pix! Excellent!!! (PS, you may have mentioned this before but do you find there’s a difference in quality when you use the same lens with different camera brands? Do they use a different adapter and does that matter? Just curious.)

    August 6, 2014 at 8:49 am

    • Thanks Lori! I don’t have the money to try different lens and camera brand combinations, so I can only go by word of mouth. There are a few adapters to fit various pieces together, but they have lost favor and are generally not very effective. I have also heard that the Nikon version of the Sigma lens that I have isn’t as good as the Canon version, but that could be because Nikon users are snobs. 😉

      August 6, 2014 at 10:19 am

  12. The black and white flying object is a Forester Moth. As usual I’m enjoying you pics. Also, for use in the real world I love my “beast”. One added benefit of the zone is target acquisition when the bird or whatever is fast moving or hard to find.

    August 6, 2014 at 9:16 am

    • Thanks Bob! You’re right about the Beast’s ability to lock in on intended subjects, it’s as if the engineers at Sigma programmed it to pick out wildlife.

      August 6, 2014 at 10:25 am

  13. I’ll read reviews while researching a product, but I don’t allow the reviews to be my deciding factor. If I did, I’d never buy anything. Thanks for that tidbit on elevation – did not know. Love the Queen Anne’s Lace photos and the angles you shot it from 🙂

    August 6, 2014 at 11:03 am

    • Thanks Ingrid! Elevation is one of the reasons that the Great Smokey Mountains are smokey and the Rockies aren’t, at least not most of the time. The thinner air in the Rockies can’t hold as much water vapor to create the blue haze that gave the Smokey’s their name.

      August 6, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      • Also has to do with humidity or rather lack there of 🙂

        August 6, 2014 at 2:25 pm

  14. You’re getting some great macro shots these days!

    I feed a pair of cardinals with peanuts on my patio wall- I usually only see their young cardinals when they’re in the immature stage before they get their adult feathers. The cardinals seem to be very secretive and protective when it comes to their young ones.

    August 6, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    • Thank you very much! You’re right about the cardinals, but I had never noticed just how protective that they could be.

      August 6, 2014 at 2:58 pm

  15. That shimmery green bee is something else, not to mention your water drops.

    August 6, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    • Thank you! I wish that I had taken my tripod along for the water drops so I could have gotten really close to them. Shooting handheld, I can’t take full advantage of how close my macro lens can get to a subject.

      August 7, 2014 at 2:28 am

  16. Thanks for a wonderful selection of photos; I particularly like the closeup of the Michigan lily but they are all fascinating and such a variety of subjects now.

    August 6, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    • Thanks Brandy! I’m very fortunate to live in an area with so much nature to photograph close to home.

      August 7, 2014 at 2:32 am

  17. Beautiful

    August 8, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      August 8, 2014 at 2:55 pm

  18. The lily shots are all superb! And the water droplet, all I can say is WOWZER! Love the cardinal photos and the disgruntled look on the juvenile’s face made me laugh out loud. And of course, I always enjoy your insect shots.

    August 11, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    • Thank you Amy! I’m looking forward to retirement so that I’ll have the time to do the shots like the water drops even better. But, that applies to all my photos, having more time rather than having to rush to have time for household chores and my job. 😉

      August 12, 2014 at 3:03 am