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.
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.
Here’s a flower that I don’t remember having ever seen before.
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.
This was much easier.
I remember that this next one was taken with the 300 mm prime lens with tele-converter, because after this shot….
…I removed the tele-converter from the 300 mm prime lens, and used it behind the Tokina for these next few images.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The dad finished feeding the youngster, and spotted me.
The dad immediately hopped in front of the youngster to protect it.
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.
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!